NJ Supreme Court Rules Cannabis Smell Can't Justify Vehicle Search; State Senate Reviews Cannabis Legal Market Challenges


Supreme Court condemns search based on cannabis odor as Fourth Amendment violation; State Senate Judiciary Committee discusses challenges of implementing adult-use cannabis law.

TRENTON - The New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that a vehicle search based on the smell of cannabis is a violation of the Fourth Amendment. Meanwhile, the State Senate Judiciary Committee held a discussion about the challenges facing the implementation of adult-use cannabis law.

The court case centered on defendant Cornelius Cohen, who was stopped on the New Jersey Turnpike in 2016 due to an alleged marijuana odor emanating from his vehicle. Despite a search turning up no cannabis, a rifle and revolver were found in the car's engine compartment. Justice Fabiana Pierre-Louis stated that the officer should have halted the search after finding no cannabis in the passenger area.

Cohen accepted a plea deal on one charge of illegal weapon possession and received a five-year prison sentence. The ruling now sets a precedent that cannabis smell alone cannot justify a full vehicle search, an essential upholding of Fourth Amendment rights.

Parallel to the court case, the State Senate Judiciary Committee has been addressing issues regarding the new adult-use cannabis law. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC) came under fire for allegedly manipulating rules to reinstate Curaleaf's license and for a perceived slow pace in processing applications. Curaleaf's license had previously been denied due to various issues, including a facility closure, lack of transparency, and union conflicts.

The CRC's chair, Dianna Houenou, defended the commission's role in regulating the new industry. She acknowledged the challenges but argued that the commission is playing a necessary role in setting up a new and complex market.

“The role of the commission, especially as a new agency standing up this industry, we inherently need to assess and understand what the demands are across the state for our patient community and our adult-use consumers, and then provide regulations and opportunities accordingly,” said Houenou.

However, Judiciary Chair Brian Stack pointed out that New Jersey has the highest cannabis prices in the nation, pushing customers to the black market. He also noted that many businesses are still awaiting approval to enter the market, leading to financial losses in an already high-risk, unpredictable regulated market. 

This situation further underscores the complex challenges of implementing a new adult-use cannabis law.

More updates on the legal cannabis industry are to come.

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