A new Maryland law will prohibit police officers from conducting a search based solely on the odor of marijuana, but critics say that will be bad for public safety.
When House Bill 1071 passed just before midnight on the last day of the legislative session, House Minority Leader Jason Buckel stood up to say the bill was a bad idea.
“There appears to be a lot of conflict and controversy about the bill,” he said. “It’s 11:50 at night, and we are doing something that is going to potentially inhibit police officers from making arrests.”
Montgomery County State’s Attorney John McCarthy agrees.
“I think that this bill, which doesn’t allow the police to search vehicles based on the odor of marijuana, I think will invariably leave more guns on our streets, in many instances in the hands of children or individuals under the age of 21, who are prohibited from having handguns,” McCarthy said.
He said under the new Maryland law, even if a person allows officers to search a car and they find a gun, it would not lead to charges.
The state’s attorney said a record number of illegal firearms are being seized in Montgomery County and he said 80% of those firearms are coming off the street because an officer smells marijuana during a traffic stop.
Since May 2022, police have seized 446 illegal guns. They seized 377 in 2021, 254 in 2020 and 466 in 2019.
The lead sponsor of the bill, Del. Charlotte Crutchfield, representing Montgomery County, said in testimony before the state Senate in March there are valid reasons the bill should be law.
“In Maryland, police are four times more likely to subject Black drivers to a warrantless search in their vehicles during traffic stops than white drivers,” she said. “This bill would eliminate opportunities for officers to abuse the discretion afforded to them in these situations and reduce opportunities for racial profiling on the road.”
“Disallowing these searches is not a step in the right direction, and if anybody was going to take this step, it should be the Supreme Court in Maryland, not the legislature,” McCarthy said.
The law goes into effect July 1, the same day the use of recreational marijuana becomes legal in the state.
Gov. Wes Moore did not sign the bill. He is letting it become law without his signature. News4 reached out to his office for comment but has not heard back.