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Name: People v. Waxler
Case #: A137796
Court: CA Court of Appeal
District 1 DCA
Division: 5
Opinion Date: 03/11/2014

The odor and observation of a small amount of burnt marijuana inside a vehicle creates probable cause for a search under the automobile exception to the warrant requirement. Appellant pled guilty to possession of methamphetamine after the trial court denied his motion to suppress evidence found during a search of his truck. An officer investigating a report of illegal trash dumping conducted the search after he smelled the odor of burnt marijuana emanating from the truck and saw a pipe with what appeared to be burnt marijuana in the bowl on the seat next to appellant. The officer discovered a bindle of methamphetamine in the truck. After the search, appellant said he had a “215 card,” permitting him to use medical marijuana. On appeal, he contended that the sight and odor of his marijuana did not justify the search because possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction punishable by a fine (Pen. Code, § 11357, subd. (b)) and because he had a valid medical marijuana recommendation. Held: Affirmed. The Fourth Amendment permits a warrantless search of an automobile if the police have probable cause to believe the automobile contains contraband. Under California law, even though possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is an infraction, possession of marijuana is illegal and the marijuana constitutes contraband. Appellant’s valid 215 card did not bar the search because a medical marijuana recommendation is not a shield from a reasonable investigation to ascertain if the marijuana is for personal medical needs and meets the amount allowed. (People v. Strasburg (2007) 148 Cal.App.4th 1052.) Here, having smelled and seen burnt marijuana, the officer had probable cause to search the vehicle. The court distinguished People v. Hua (2008) 158 Cal.App.4th 1027 and People v. Torres (2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 989, which addressed warrantless entry into a home and applied the exigent circumstances doctrine.