Minnesota Supreme Court rules marijuana smell alone not enough for a search

Sep. 14—ST. PAUL

— The Minnesota Supreme Court has ruled that the odor of burnt marijuana does not by itself provide probable cause for law officers to search a vehicle.

The Sept. 13 ruling by the

state's high court

affirms prior decisions by the Minnesota Court of Appeals and District Judge Jennifer Fischer to dismiss felony charges of possession of drug paraphernalia in the presence of a minor child and fifth-degree possession of a controlled substance in a

Meeker County


"In this case, the officers relied solely on the medium-strength odor of marijuana when determining there was a fair probability that contraband or evidence of a crime would be found in (the defendant's) vehicle — the very bright-line rule for probable cause advanced by the State and which we have rejected," stated Justice Anne McKeig in the ruling. She pointed out that the officers had not witnessed any suspicious activity by the driver, and did not see any drug paraphernalia or evidence that marijuana was being used illegally.



came with two justices in dissent. "Common sense tells us that when a person has recently smoked marijuana in their car, there is a fair chance that more marijuana for personal use will be in the car," Chief Justice Lorie Gildea wrote in the dissent. She was joined by Justice Barry Anderson in voting against the majority.

In the original district court ruling, Judge Fischer found that the odor of marijuana did not provide probable cause "to believe criminal activity was afoot sufficient to justify a warrantless search of the vehicle."

The Meeker County Attorney's Office had appealed the decision that suppressed the evidence obtained in the search.


felony charges

were filed against Adam Lloyd Torgerson, now 39, of


, following a traffic stop at around 9:56 p.m. on July 5, 2021, on County Road 34 in Litchfield. A Litchfield police officer suspected that a "very bright" light bar on a vehicle Torgerson was driving contained more lights than allowed by law.

The officer, and a second officer who came to assist, both reported that they detected the smell of burnt marijuana from the vehicle. They did not observe any signs of impairment by the defendant. He was accompanied in the vehicle by a woman and a minor child.

The officers had the occupants exit the vehicle and they searched it. They did not find any marijuana in the vehicle, but found three pipes, baggies and a container holding substances that field-tested positive for methamphetamine, according to the original complaint.