It is now illegal for car passengers to consume cannabis in a moving vehicle in California. Gov. Jerry Brown signed legislation on September 11 that bans smoking cannabis or taking edibles while driving in a vehicle or while riding as a passenger. Sen. Jerry Hill introduced SB-65 which imposes a $70 fine on drivers and passengers who are caught consuming cannabis in a moving vehicle.
The bill simply adds “and marijuana” to existing drunk driving laws, its authors argue. “Existing law makes it an infraction to drink any alcoholic beverage while driving a motor vehicle upon any highway or on other specified lands,” the bill reads. “Existing law also prohibits a driver or passenger from drinking any alcoholic beverage while in a motor vehicle upon a highway, and makes a violation of this provision punishable as an infraction. This bill would instead make drinking an alcoholic beverage or smoking or ingesting marijuana or any marijuana product while driving, or while riding as a passenger in, a motor vehicle being driven upon a highway or upon specified lands punishable as an infraction.”
California’s open container laws are similar, and punishments can climb to a $250 fine and an infraction, even if the alcoholic drink isn’t consumed. For some background, California already bans driving under the influence of cannabis and having an open bag of cannabis in a car, which is why budtenders tell you to keep the bag stapled until you get home.
It initially sounds like a done deal—except there’s one problem—it’s nearly impossible to correctly detect cannabis consumption levels the way alcohol is detected, despite several cannabis detection devices in use. There is “no equivalent will ever exist for marijuana or any other drug like the familiar 0.08 BAC (blood alcohol level) for alcohol,” reported the Wall Street Journal on September 4. The way alcohol and cannabinoids are absorbed and stored in our bodies shares little resemblance. Cannabis, obviously, stays in your system much longer and can reappear in the bloodstream days or weeks after smoking.
Drugged driving and drunk driving laws differ from state to state. Some states even go further, such as Utah, which considers a trace 0.05 percent BAC detection a DUI. The law goes into effect January 1, the same day recreational cannabis sales begin in California.