In a recent ruling that has significant implications for drivers across Minnesota, the state Supreme Court has declared that police can no longer use a long utilized tactic to search vehicles.

The case at the center of this ruling, State v. Torgerson, involved an incident from July 2021 in Litchfield, Minnesota. Adam Lloyd Torgerson was pulled over by police, who noticed his vehicle had more auxiliary lights than state law permits.

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Some buds of marijuana sit on a wooden board next to a neatly rolled joint.
Phil Lewis
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During the routine traffic stop, the officer claimed to have smelled marijuana and used that as justification to search Torgerson's vehicle, during the search police found methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

Torgerson challenged the legality of the search, arguing that the mere odor of marijuana did not constitute probable cause. The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed, with Justice Anne McKeig writing a 26-page opinion supporting this view.

Law and Marijuana

This ruling follows a similar decision by the Minnesota Court of Appeals in September 2023, which also found that cannabis smell alone does not justify a vehicle search. This precedent is expected to limit the ability of police in Minnesota to conduct searches based solely on the smell of marijuana.

Trimmed marijuana flower (Mango Kush) in glass jar on wood table with vape pen.

Tom Gallagher, a veteran defense attorney and cannabis advocate, sees this as a landmark decision. “It’s a recognition of a big change in marijuana law,” Gallagher told MinnPost. “We’ve drawn the line, finally.”

The implications of the Torgerson case extend beyond Minnesota, highlighting a shift in how courts view the intersection of cannabis legalization and search and seizure laws. This decision protects citizens' rights, ensuring that the odor of marijuana alone cannot be used as a pretext for broader searches and potential legal jeopardy.

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