January 7, 2019

Vermont Supreme Court: Smell of Burnt Cannabis Doesn’t Justify Search

The Vermont Supreme Court has ruled that a state trooper was wrong to seize a man’s vehicle after he said he smelled a faint scent of burnt marijuana.

The ruling creates binding court precedent across Vermont.

The court ruled Friday that a faint odor of burnt marijuana doesn’t create a fair probability that cannabis itself would be found. The ruling creates binding court precedent across Vermont, which legalized adult-use cannabis last year.

The Vermont American Civil Liberties Union sued the state over the seizure after then-21-year-old Greg Zullo of Rutland, who is black, was pulled over in Wallingford in March 2014. The trooper said snow was covering his registration sticker.

The trooper said he smelled burnt marijuana and asked to search the car. Zullo refused but allowed the trooper to search him.

The car was towed and a grinder and pipe with some marijuana residue were found, which is not a criminal offense.

While it’s legal in Vermont for adults 21 and over to possess, consume, and grow cannabis for personal use, the state does not allow commercial cultivation or sales. That could change soon under a plan in the state Legislature that would legalize, regulate, and tax a commercial cannabis market.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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