Can the police search my car if they smell marijuana?

The short answer is yes. In order to search your car, the police usually need probable cause, and the courts have ruled that the smell of marijuana coming from a car constitutes probable cause to search the car. See United States v. Humphries, 372 F.3d 653 (4th Cir. 2004), available here.

However, the smell of marijuana by itself may not be enough cause for the police to arrest everyone in the car for marijuana possession. To arrest someone for marijuana possession, there generally must be other factors present indicating which specific person/people possess the marijuana. For example, it is more likely that the Court will find that there was probable cause to arrest you if (a) you own the car, (b) you are driving, (c) the marijuana was found closest to you, and/or (d) you claim ownership of the marijuana. It is less likely that there will be probable cause if you aren’t driving, if you don’t own the car, and/or the marijuana found is closer to another person than to you.

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