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New Law Establishes That Smoking While In A Vehicle Is Against California Law

In recent years, the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes has gained increasing acceptance in the U.S. According to the Pew Research Center, “57% of U.S. adults say the use of marijuana should be made legal.” Just 37% still say the substance should still be against the law. This is a reverse from just ten years ago where only “32% favored legalization, while 60% were opposed.” Prior to the 2016 election, 25 states had legalized marijuana in some form, either for medical purposes or recreational ones.

Last November, California joined other states like Washington and Colorado and legalized the use of recreational marijuana. Under Proposition 64, citizens of the Golden State who are 21 years or older can “possess, transport, buy and use up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes.” The law also allows people to grow up to six marijuana plants and permits “retail sales of marijuana and impose[s] a 15% tax.” Though legal, the Los Angeles Times stated that it would be some time before businesses could start selling marijuana for non-medical uses. The state has “until Jan. 1, 2018, to begin issuing sales licenses for recreational retailers.”

When any new law passes, there can be issues that arise. One such issue was that while it is illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana it wasn't technically illegal to smoke marijuana while in the car. However, this has now changed. According to the Los Angeles Times, “[t]he new law bans actually smoking marijuana or consuming cannabis edibles while driving or riding in a vehicle.” The law “is similar to open container laws that prohibit drinking while driving.” An individual found to be violating the new law would have to pay a fine of $70.

If a driver is found with marijuana -- regardless if consuming it or not -- in his or her vehicle, the penalty is a fine, albeit a larger fine that the fine associated with smoking marijuana or consuming cannabis while driving or riding in a vehicle. An individual found with an “open container” of marijuana will have to pay a $100 fine. An open container is defined as “any receptacle of marijuana or weed products (edibles, vape pens, etc.) that is open, has been previously opened or has a broken seal, as well as loose cannabis flowers in a container.” However, an open container can be kept in a vehicle's trunk.

While these two penalties may be relatively minor, the penalty for drinking and driving is considerably greater. A first DUI offense can result in a minimum jail stay of forty-eight hours and a maximum of six months. Cal. Veh. Code 23536. In addition, other penalties can be imposed including a period of probation, a significant fine, DUI classes, and license suspension.

John Campanella

I have been representing people accused of drunk driving since I began practicing in 1995. I went to my first Sacramento DUI conference that year and listened to great DUI attorneys like Ed Kuwatch AKA, “Fast Eddie” and Lawrence Taylor who motivated me to study and practice in this area of law.

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