The Lawletter Vol 40 No 12
Mark Rieber, Senior Attorney, National Legal Research Group
Two recent opinions in Arizona have come to different conclusions about the significance of the smell of marijuana in the determination of probable cause in light of the passage of the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act ("AMMA"), albeit in very different factual situations. In State v. Sisco, 359 P.3d 1 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2015) the court held that with the passage of the AMMA, the mere scent of marijuana coming from a warehouse, standing alone, was insufficient to provide probable cause for the issuance of a search warrant to search the warehouse. The court observed that its holding accorded "with well-reasoned jurisprudence from several other jurisdictions." Id. at 8, ¶ 29 (citing cases).
In State v. Cheatham, 353 P.3d 382 (Ariz. Ct. App. 2015), however, the court distinguished Sisco and held that the odor of burnt marijuana from inside a vehicle lawfully stopped by police provided probable cause to search the vehicle. The court explained that the AMMA does not decriminalize marijuana possession or use, but, instead, where applicable, it provides immunity for possession or use consistent with the immunity provision of the AMMA. Thus, the possession or use of marijuana remains a crime under Arizona law, albeit a crime subject to immunity if undertaken consistently with the AMMA. It is a defendant's burden to plead and prove immunity under the AMMA. "The fact that a registered patient under the AMMA with a valid registry identification card can affirmatively claim immunity for arrest, prosecution or penalty for possession or use of marijuana . . . does not eliminate the significance of the smell of marijuana as an indicator of criminal activity in this case." Id. at 386. Thus, the court concluded that the AMMA does not mean that the plain smell of marijuana is no longer sufficient to establish probable cause under Arizona laws.