WHITESIDE COUNTY, Ill. — It's a potential historic ruling that resulted from a simple traffic stop.
Local attorney James Mertes knows it has the chance to be overturned, but he plans to keep on fighting the idea that the smell of marijuana isn’t reason enough to conduct an unwarranted search of a car in Illinois alone.
“Ultimately this case is at the forefront of reshaping the law,” says Mertes.
He was the attorney who represented Vincent Molina, the man at the center of this case.
Recreational marijuana has been legal in Illinois since the beginning of 2020, but since then officers have still used the smell of cannabis as a reason to search a car during traffic stops. A judge in Whiteside County has now ruled that is no longer allowed.
“How on earth could an officer be justified in their search of a motor vehicle based on probable cause that a crime is afoot when the odor that the officer is relying upon to justify the search is the odor of something that is no longer illegal,” Mertes said.
Molina was a passenger in a car that was pulled over back in December of 2020. He was arrested for possession of 2.6 grams of cannabis after showing a medical use license to the officer.
The officer says the search was made solely based on the smell of the drug.
“Just as a bartender might smell like beer on the way home from work but having not consumed any alcohol whatsoever,” Mertes said. “Someone who has lawfully been present of raw cannabis may smell like it.”
It’s a change Sheriff Booker shouldn't affect protocol too much, with officers continuing to focus on driver behavior.
“We’ll go through the regular protocols that our deputies use when they stop someone, same as impaired driving through alcohol,” Booker said. “They'll follow their steps.”
Mertes says he believes this is really is just the beginning of something bigger for states like Illinois as well as others that have legalized marijuana for creating laws like this one.