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Does Legal Weed Affect Probable Cause?

Justices in the state Supreme Court are considering whether and how the decriminalization of cannabis possession changes rules that let police in Illinois execute on-the-spot searches absent a judicial warrant. The case, involving a man charged with cocaine possession after Marion County cops detected what they said was marijuana in his vehicle and executed a warrantless search, has implications for jurisprudence as prohibition on recreational use comes to an end. Not least of all a 1985 decision by the high court that makes odor of the drug grounds for probable cause.

A judge the 6th Circuit granted Charles Hill’s motion to suppress the cocaine found in a 2017 traffic stop because cops couldn’t produce the pot bud glimpsed on a back seat as they approached the vehicle. Judges in the 4th District overturned the ruling on appeal, saying that the smell of cannabis coming from the car justified the search. Oral arguments centered on the court’s ruling in People v. Stout in light of a change to the Illinois Cannabis Control Act a year earlier that made possession of less than ten grams of marijuana a civil offense. And whether medical exemptions to contraband and forfeiture rules equate decriminalization with legalization.