While recreational cannabis has become legal to sell in California this year, consumers are not allowed to smoke or consume pot products while operating a vehicle or riding as a passenger.
While it is already illegal to drive while intoxicated with cannabis and to have an open bag of cannabis in a vehicle, a new law that was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown—which went into effect on January 1, 2018—bans smoking or ingesting any pot products while behind the wheel. Violations of the new law banning smoking and ingesting marijuana products while diving will be considered infractions and punishable by a $70 fine.
Similar to open container rules related to alcohol, the cannabis container should be sealed and never broken. If the seal is broken, however, the container must be stored in the trunk of the vehicle.
The measure was written by Sen. Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) before the start of marijuana sales for recreational use. In proposing the law, Hill cited a 2012 study by the California Office of Traffic Safety which discovered more weekend nighttime drivers in the state tested positive for cannabis compared to alcohol.
The governor vetoed another cannabis bill that would have banned marijuana packaging which could be appealing to children, such as wrappers that make edible marijuana resemble candy. Brown stated his administration is already drafting rules to keep kids away from pot.
Enforcing the new law, however, doesn't come without challenges. According to California Highway Patrol Sgt. Oscar Chavez, law enforcement has the challenge of determining whether a product is related to cannabis or tobacco.
“If someone's just smoking an E-cigarette, it would be hard us [law enforcement] to justify the fact that I'm stopping you for the cannabis violation and it is just a regular nicotine being smoked at the time. It has to be obvious in order for us to make the traffic stop,” the sergeant said on Capital Public Radio.