On Sept. 26, Washington state troopers began cracking down on motorists carrying “open containers” of marijuana. Designed to resemble Washington’s longstanding open-container alcohol law, the new marijuana law carries a similar penalty for drivers, though rules surrounding the law are far more complicated. Though marijuana has been decriminalized in Washington, drivers are no longer allowed to stow bags of pot or edibles in the glove box or passenger compartment of their vehicles—that is, unless the packages have not been previously opened.
The very notion of an “open container” of pot is perplexing to many. According to House Bill 1276, an “open” package of weed or edibles is one whose seal has been broken. This statement implies, but does not designate, that any weed being carried in the front of a vehicle must have been purchased from an official supplier. Fine print states that it is illegal to put pot in a container that is not specifically labeled by the manufacturer of the container as legal weed.
Pot grown at home or bought on the street does not come in an official, sealed container, so it appears that this law will prevent any buds not bought from official suppliers from being transported— unless they’re hidden in a trunk. And despite Washington’s supposed full-tolerance policy regarding users who carry a medical license, the new law states that only cannabis bought from a medical supplier is legal to transport in the front of a car.
It’s difficult to see the value in a tangled set of loopholes which appear to have little to do with ending drugged-up driving and are far more involved in an endeavor to challenge Washington’s decriminalization of legal weed. The hefty fine of $136 that comes with committing this new traffic infraction seems like quite a price to pay for people who voted to legalize recreational pot just a couple years ago. Fortunately, because the law is a newly developed violation, it’s up to individual officers to decide whether to give violators a fine or just a first-time warning.
In Oregon, police officers are used to dealing with people who drive and use pot. But since recreational marijuana has been made legal, DUII laws no longer prohibit driving while stoned or even while smoking pot in the car. Since our legalization laws in Oregon are brand-new, legislation governing marijuana use by motorists, along with any “open-container” regulations, have not yet been put into effect. However, most officers still advise Oregonians to stick to driving sober to avoid any potential problems. Perhaps our own state government will use the success—or lack thereof— of Washington’s new decree as a litmus test before it begins to employ the same code in Oregon.