Washington Passes Open Container Law for Marijuana

In Washington, the state legislature has recently passed HB 1276, a bill aimed at preventing driving under the influence of marijuana. Under the new law, it is now a traffic violation to operate a motor vehicle with marijuana in an open container, defined as a receptacle that has been “opened or the seal broken or contents partially removed.”

Although many marijuana users have traditionally operated under the assumption that driving under the influence of marijuana or traveling with an open container of the substance could be considered a crime, the fact is that the law has been slow to catch up with conventional wisdom.

For example, the Colorado legislature passed marijuana DUI laws in 2013—one year after legalizing recreational marijuana and 13 years after passing medical marijuana.

Speaking with The News Tribune State Rep. Brad Klippert, the bill’s sponsor, said that HB 1276 is intended to make the streets “safer today than they were yesterday.”

“As a law enforcement officer, I’ve seen way too many times when people who were under the influence of drugs or alcohol have killed or caused horrific injuries to people on our highways,” said Klippert, who also serves as a Benton County sheriff’s deputy. “We don’t want that to happen anymore.”

While there is little evidence to suggest that marijuana use significantly increases the risk of an auto accident, passing laws aimed at combating drugged driving is still a prudent move for lawmakers. Allowing drivers to use intoxicating substances, to any extent, typically makes for poor public policy.

Under HB 1276, if residents of Washington want to travel with marijuana in their vehicles, it will have to be stored in a sealed container, in the truck of the car, or in a place or compartment that is not normally occupied or directly assessable by the driver or passengers.

Glove compartments or utility compartments will still be considered areas occupied by and directly accessible to drivers and passengers.

A potentially problematic provision in the new law stipulates that those found to have 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter in their blood system will have their licenses automatically suspended.

This could be a reasonable provision, but marijuana stays in the blood system much longer than its effects of intoxication, and as of yet, there is still no reliable way of testing current marijuana intoxication.

Since it seems marijuana users who are not high could potentially be arrested for marijuana DUIs and have their licenses automatically suspended, lawmakers will eventually have to respond to this problematic provision in action.

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