Moore declines to explain decision to not sign cannabis odor bill

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore has declined to say why he didn’t sign off on prohibiting police from stopping and searching someone solely because of the smell of cannabis, which will be legal for recreational use beginning July 1.

The bill, which will also prohibit stops and searches based solely on someone having cannabis — so long as it’s 1.5 ounces or less — or the presence of cash near cannabis without other signs of an intent to distribute, will become law without Moore’s signature.

“I was a little disappointed that the governor wasn’t eager to sign it and be a part of making this a protected activity,” said David Jaros, faculty director of the University of Baltimore School of Law’s Center for Criminal Justice Reform.

Moore, through spokesman Carter Elliott, on Monday declined to explain his decision to not sign the bill, one of 10 that will become law without his signature.

Jaros said that engaging in legal activity doesn’t give the police the right to stop, question and search people, whether because of a reasonable suspicion or probable cause, especially given the role those kinds of stops have played in problematic policing.

It’s “simplistic and naive,” Jaros said, to think people will just know and invoke their Fourth Amendment right against an unlawful search if they’re stopped because of legal cannabis use.

“For the person who spends the night arrested or has to hire an attorney or go to court on multiple court dates before the case is dismissed, that right doesn’t seem to be easily vindicated,” Jaros said.

In opposing the bill, members of the Maryland Chiefs of Police and Maryland Sheriffs’ associations wrote that, while evidence obtained in violation of the Fourth Amendment cannot be used in a criminal trial, the bill would prevent such evidence from being admissible in any proceeding, regardless of who wishes to introduce the evidence and for what purpose.

“The prohibition event extends to evidence obtained ‘with consent,’ regardless of whether consent is knowing and voluntary,” the association members wrote.

But Del. Jheanelle Wilkins, chair of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland, wrote in an email that, “this bill is critical to the safety of Black Marylanders.”

Despite comprising about 30% of Maryland’s population, Black or African American drivers have constituted more than 60% of annual traffic stops since 2018, according to the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services.

Police were more than four times as likely to conduct a warrantless vehicle search based on probable cause after stopping a Black or African American driver, compared to stops involving a white driver.

With the legalization of cannabis coming in July, lawmakers worked “until the very closing moment of the legislative session” to get the bill passed, Wilkins wrote.

With minutes left in the 90-day session, the bill passed 101-36 in the House of Delegates, which has a Democratic supermajority.

House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Democrat, ignored requests from several Republican lawmakers to explain their vote, saying “I know what you’re trying to do” and that she was trying to get through as many of the remaining bills as possible.

After Jones steamrolled Republicans’ apparent attempts to stall, Del. Nicholaus Kipke rose to his feet and started yelling at Jones, saying she needed to sit down.

Wilkins wrote in a tweet that Kipke was “belligerent,” and he later apologized to Jones.

Among the 10 bills that Moore will allow to become law without his signature was one of Kipke’s.

Through Elliott, Moore declined to say why he signed the Senate version of the bill but not the one Kipke’s sponsored.

The bills, though, weren’t identical. Following the session, Moore signed five of Kipke’s bills and several others that Kipke co-sponsored.

Kipke said in a phone interview Monday that Moore’s decision to not sign his bill was a “nothingburger” and that he had no reason to think the governor was sending a message.

Moore has also vetoed three bills, two of which he said were duplicative. Each of Moore’s three predecessors vetoed well over 100 bills during their first legislative session in office.

Moore wrote in a letter to Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson that one of the bills he vetoed would prevent smaller businesses, including some minority- and women-owned businesses, from competing for Maryland Transit Administration commuter bus contracts.

“Furthermore,” he wrote, “the reduction of competition resulting from this limitation in bidders would likely result in an increase in costs for commuter bus contracts.”

Daily Record legal affairs reporter Madeleine O’Neill contributed to this story.


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