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Local Police Lament the Loss of a Crime-Fighting Tool

Some of the past year's serious arrests — for things like larceny and possession of cocaine or ecstasy — couldn't happen today, after the SJC ruled the odor of marijuana is not enough to make someone step out of his car.

Last July 11, a pair of officers conducting an early-morning motor vehicle stop on Weston Road smelled marijuana wafting from the windows of a passing car. They followed the vehicle to the Mobil gas station at 535 Washington St., where they questioned the driver, Wellesley resident Tyler Boyd, then 21, about the odor.

According to a police report, Boyd reminded the officers that Massachusetts voters had decriminalized marijuana in 2008. But police nevertheless took the smell of pot as probable cause to order Boyd and his two passengers from the car and search it.

The officers discovered a bag of cocaine, , and charged him with possession of a Class B substance — a much more serious consequence than the $100 civil fine he received for the 2 grams of marijuana police also found. But it’s a consequence Boyd would avoid if the sequence repeated itself today, thanks to a ruling last week by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court that marijuana odor does not empower police to deliver the mandate, “Please step out of the car.”

“Without at least some other additional fact to bolster a reasonable suspicion of actual criminal activity, the odor of burnt marijuana alone cannot reasonably provide suspicion of criminal activity to justify an exit order,” Chief Justice Roderick Ireland wrote for the majority in a 5-1 decision.

In addition to Boyd’s, at least five other arrests in Wellesley over the past year might not have been made if the SJC’s new guideline was in place.

“All those arrests based on the odor of marijuana wouldn’t happen,” Wellesley Deputy Police Chief Bill Brooks said. "And not so much in Wellesley, but in other communities, those searches that lead to arrests for guns and stolen cars won’t happen.”

Charges that resulted from odor-based exit orders include , , and .

Brooks noted his department has observed an increase in marijuana possession, especially in and around cars, since the drug was decriminalized three years ago. He conceded the SJC ruling does reflect public sentiment, as the court determined last week, but lamented the loss of a crime-fighting tool.

“It’s in keeping with the spirit of the law,” Brooks said. “But I think this is part of the slippery slope. First it’s decriminalized, then they take our ability to conduct a search. I think it’s a bad idea, personally.”

roger weinreb April 30, 2011 at 01:19 PM
The law is the law. It is not subject to any one cop's likes or dislikes.

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