Colorado appeals court rules scent of marijuana not enough to search vehicle

A Colorado appeals court ruled Thursday that the possible presence of marijuana in a vehicle, detected by drug-sniffing dogs, does not give police the authority to search the vehicle.

A three-judge panel ruling in the case of a Craig resident agreed that police officers need more cause to search a vehicle without permission, according to the Grand Junction Sentinel.

Judge Daniel Dailey wrote in his ruling that it could be legal marijuana in the certain vehicle.

“Because Amendment 64 legalized possession for personal use of one ounce or less of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older in Colorado, it is no longer accurate to say, at least as a matter of state law, that an alert by a dog which can detect marijuana — but not specific amounts — can reveal only the presence of ‘contraband,’” he wrote.

Dailey added the dog sniffing the vehicle could “infringe upon a legitimate expectation of privacy.”

The judges ruled in a February 2015 case. Craig police Cpl. Bryan Gonzalez followed a truck driven by Kevin McKnight that was leaving a house authorities had raided two months earlier.

Gonzalez said in testimony that he pulled McKnight over for making a turn without signaling and later called for a drug-sniffing dog. The dog sniff revealed a pipe that is mostly associated with meth smoking, according to the paper.

McKnight was convicted of possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a controlled substance.

However, the appeals court ruled the drug-sniffing dog could not tell what he was sniffing because marijuana is legal in Colorado. Thus, officers did not have enough probable cause to search the vehicle.