Police Officers Admit to Getting High from Marijuana at Office

As a criminal defense lawyer in State College since 2004, I have dealt with members of the Centre County Drug Task Force, agents with the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office, and general officers of the local police departments on marijuana cases. I have used the much repeated joke over the years that the officers probably “field test” the marijuana by smoking it and seeing if they get high. In a recent article on the Huffington Post, police officers at a department in Northern France have approximately 90 pounds of marijuana in the evidence room of the police station, and the officers are complaining that they are getting high from the strong odor of marijuana emanating throughout the building. Some officers had even taken a drug test, and they tested positive for marijuana. The agency that normally picks up the drug evidence and transports it to another location is on strike, so the marijuana stash has been piling up for a few weeks.

Marijuana Odor and Penn State Dorm and Apartment Searches

The Penn State police are very experienced in detecting the odor of burning marijuana in the halls of University Park and Altoona dorms. Many students, especially freshman, experiment with some marijuana use in the dorm, and while they try to blow the smoke outside or mask it with various chemicals, another dorm resident or RA often smells the odor and calls the police. After the police respond, they sniff around the door frames of the rooms on the dorm floor, and upon locating the offending room, they knock on the door.

If no one answers the door, the police often complete a request for a search warrant, present the warrant request to a judge, and after receiving the signed warrant, they then search the room. The odor of marijuana is sufficient probable cause to justify the issuance of a search warrant. If a student or guest answers the door, the police request permission to enter the room, and the police then try to convince the occupant to consent to the search. If the occupants consent, then the police do not need to obtain a search warrant. In order to increase the likelihood that the Penn State students consent to the search of the dorm room, the officers often tell them that “they can do this the easy way or the hard way.” Basically, the officers are saying that the students can cooperate and consent to the search, or the police will get a search warrant. If the students refuse consent, the police will obtain a search warrant.

Coerced Consent is a Defense in Drug Possession Cases

Everyone knows that the 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that law enforcement generally must obtain a warrant supported by probable cause before entering and searching a residence. If the police receive consent to search from a tenant or owner, then the police do not need to obtain a warrant. Consent must be clear, unequivocal, and not the product of duress or coercion.

I talk to many Penn State students and their parents about whether or not the threat from the police to obtain a warrant is sufficient coercion or duress to invalidate a consensual search of a dorm room. While the student may have in fact been scared and unsure about what to do, an officer’s threat to obtain a search warrant does not rise to the level of duress or coercion under the law. Instead, the officer’s search of the dorm room based upon consent is generally not violative of the student’s constitutional rights, which means that the marijuana and related paraphernalia that are found in the room is admissible in court during any hearings or trials related to charges of Possession of a Small Amount of Marijuana under 35 P.S. §780-113(a)(31) and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia under 35 P.S. § 780-113(a)(32). Anyone charged with a criminal offense should have the case reviewed by an experienced criminal defense attorney.