Arizona’s Top Court Affirms 'Plain Smell' Doctrine for Cannabis

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled this morning that the smell of growing cannabis constitutes probable cause for a search warrant. The court’s decision overturned a lower appeals court ruling, which held that Arizona’s medical marijuana law legally negated the so-called “plain smell doctrine.” 

In the short term, this is bad news for Ronald James Sisco, the 45-year-old Tucson man who was arrested in 2013 for an illegal cannabis grow inside a rented storage unit. At his original trial, Sisco was sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison, which he will now serve. 

In the long term, though, the Sisco decision may have a very short shelf life. Arizona will vote on full adult-use legalization in November, and the justices themselves admit that if it passes, “our analysis and conclusion in this context might well be different.” 

The Arizona case also highlights the legally murky status of the “plain smell doctrine,” a corollary...

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