A court in Pennsylvania this month ruled against a medical cannabis patient who had appealed a 2021 driving under the influence conviction.
The York Daily Record has the background on the case involving Franklin Dabney, a 29-year-old from Hanover, Pennsylvania who was arrested in 2020 after a Pennsylvania state trooper in an unmarked vehicle clocked him going 93 miles per hour in a 65 zone.
The trooper “noticed a ‘strong odor of raw marijuana’ coming from inside the vehicle,” the York Daily Record reported, prompting Dabney to “[take] out a medical marijuana card and [state] that the smell was probably originating from his clothes.”
“Law enforcement conducted a warrantless search of the vehicle, finding flakes of suspected marijuana near the center console and front-passenger seat as well as a shopping bag containing three baggies of weed,” the Daily Record reported. “Dabney, police said, had dilated and red eyes. He also showed signs of impairment during standard field sobriety tests. Police arrested Dabney and took him to Gettysburg Hospital, where a blood test revealed that he had active marijuana compounds and metabolites in his system. Prosecutors later agreed to exclude the weed found in his car from evidence and withdrew three of the charges against him.”
A little more than a year after the arrest, a Pennsylvania judge “found Dabney guilty of driving under the influence, careless driving, and speeding and sentenced him to six months’ probation, with 10 days on house arrest and handed down almost $1,115 in fines,” according to the Daily Record, which spurred the appeal.
Per the newspaper, Dabney and his attorneys contended that “that medical marijuana is not a Schedule 1 controlled substance in Pennsylvania and that law enforcement should be prohibited from charging and prosecuting him for two subsections of DUI,” and if it were, the DUI law would be in conflict with the state’s medical cannabis statute.
Last week, a panel of three judges in the Pennsylvania Superior Court rejected that argument.
In the ruling, Judge Deborah A. Kunselman, said that “medical marijuana remains a Schedule I controlled substance,” and that “no conflict exists between the [Medical Marijuana Act] and the Vehicle Code.”
“There is no need for ‘medical marijuana’ to be listed as a Schedule I controlled substance because medical marijuana is marijuana, specifically marijuana ‘for certified medical use,’” Kunselman wrote, adding that the Medical Marijuana Act “did not remove marijuana from the list of Schedule I controlled substances.”
Additionally, the panel rejected Dabney’s contention that the state trooper was wrong to conclude that there was probable cause to arrest him for DUI.
“We find no merit to this issue. Our Supreme Court has held that because of the MMA, ‘the odor of marijuana alone does not amount to probable cause to conduct a warrantless search of a vehicle but, rather, may be considered as a factor in examining the totality of the circumstances,” Kunselman wrote.
The case could have ripple effects for Pennsylvania’s more than 400,000 medical cannabis patients.
As the York Daily Record noted, the ruling “is precedential, which means that it has a binding effect on future cases in Pennsylvania,” and it remains unclear if Dabney will file another appeal.
“That’s certainly something we’re considering,” Dabney’s attorney, Christian DeFilippo, said, as quoted by the York Daily Record. “I want to let him take some time to make that decision.”