Possession of Any Amount of Medicinal Marijuana Enough to Search Automobile
Overview: A California Court of Appeal has ruled that a law enforcement officer’s observation of any amount of marijuana in a vehicle establishes probable cause to search using the automobile exception, and that an individual’s possession of a medicinal marijuana card does not affect that probable cause.
Training Points: This ruling confirms that the automobile exception to the warrant requirement is a powerful tool law enforcement officers can use in the detection of marijuana and the pursuit of criminals. As always, officers must properly document the chain of events that lead to establishing probable cause for a vehicle search.
Summary Analysis: In People v. Waxler, a sheriff’s deputy searched Waxler’s car after the deputy smelled burnt marijuana coming from the car and observed a marijuana pipe with what appeared to be marijuana in the bowl sitting inside the car. The deputy’s search uncovered a small amount of methamphetamine along with a pipe, and Waxler was subsequently convicted of possession of methamphetamine. On appeal, Waxler argued that the deputy lacked probable cause to search his car because Waxler presented the deputy with a medicinal marijuana card. Additionally, Waxler argued that the amount of marijuana the deputy observed was within the amount allowed by the Compassionate Use Act. The Court of Appeal disagreed, holding that the observation of any amount of marijuana establishes probable cause to search a vehicle pursuant to the automobile exception because a law enforcement officer may reasonably suspect that additional (illegal) quantities of marijuana may be found in the vehicle.