Though marijuana is now legal for medical use in Illinois, the smell of it can still get drivers into trouble. On March 19, a unanimous decision by the Illinois Supreme Court found that the smell or sight of cannabis justified probable cause for a police officer to conduct a vehicle search.

The Supreme Court decision stemmed from an incident in May 2017 in which a man’s vehicle was searched by a police officer without a warrant. The search was conducted after the police officer allegedly noticed a “bud” on the backseat as well as the smell of burnt cannabis. During the search, the officer uncovered a rock of crack cocaine and marijuana residue. The accused man was charged for possession of a controlled substance, but he was not charged for cannabis possession. According to reports, the “bud” was not collected or documented.

Initially, the defendant was granted a motion to suppress the evidence found during the search. The 4th District Appellate Court overturned that motion. In a decision affirming the appellate court’s ruling, Supreme Court judges decided that the police officer’s observations were enough probable cause for a vehicle search. The judges pointed out that medical marijuana users are required to keep their marijuana in a sealed container while it is in a vehicle. The judges said the smell of marijuana indicated that the drug was not properly contained.

Warrantless vehicle searches may be found unlawful for many different reasons. If a person was handed drug charges after a warrantless vehicle search, a lawyer may be able to help the person file a motion to suppress evidence that was obtained during the search. A lawyer might argue that the police officer had no probable cause or failed to read the defendant their rights before searching the vehicle.