Several Bills, Including “Cannabis Smell,” Go Into Law Without Governor’s Signature

Governor Moore chose not to sign a bill outlawing vehicle searches based on a cannabis smell. But he didn’t veto the bill, or some others, either. Under the Maryland Constitution, these bills become law, but there’s a “message” embedded.

Three new sources — Maryland Matters, the Baltimore Banner, and The Daily Recordeach noted that Governor Moore chose to leave his signature off a bill that will now prohibit police officers from stopping and searching a vehicle solely based on the smell of cannabis, as of July 1 no longer an illegal substance under Maryland state law. Ten such bills were left in this intermediate state by the Governor, and each of them will become law (on the same schedule as signed bills, according to their individual effective dates) – but with implications about their effect by the gesture.

When asked, administration staff declined to explain why this particular bill did not receive a signature or a veto, when other legislation that met a similar fate did receive an explanation. While this scenario is not new, it certainly earns a degree of reflection when three reputable sources intentionally cite the procedure.

The high-profile bill regarding cannabis odor was a buzzer-beater – debated well into the evening on the final day of the legislative session right up to midnight before it was finally passed. Most of the discussion centered on whether the bill actually prevents a violation of an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights, which protects citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. During bill hearings and floor deliberations, claims were made to support both scenarios.

The (now named) Supreme Court of Maryland has issued two conflicting judgments on the odor of cannabis in the last three years in relation to searches. According to the Baltimore Banner article, one judgment from 2020 claimed that smell does not provide reasonable suspicion and the second outcome in 2022 expressed the opposite, which certainly adds more fuel to the discussion. The lack of a fully clear precedent contributed to the policy debate, even before the acknowledgment that Maryland law changes on July 1 to remove cannabis from its list of illegal controlled substances.

Another example of a bill passed by the General Assembly, but not receiving the Governor’s signature was HB 371, extending the limit of value for corporate mortgage documents exempted from county recordation taxes. While the Governor has not released a specific statement on this bill, the lack of his signature arguably indicates a degree of concern with the tax policy it affects. MACo had opposed the bill as introduced, although the General Assembly altered both the dollar amount and the effective date through its deliberations.