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Think You Know California’s Open Container Law? Think Again

Posted by Christopher Martens | May 08, 2018 | 0 Comments

What Is California's Open Container Law?

California has a group of open container laws that pertain to driving with an open container of a prohibited substance in the car. Most people are familiar with the illegality of having an open container of alcohol in a car while driving. What many people don't realize, however, is driving with an open container of marijuana is illegal as well.

This may come as some surprise, as California's marijuana laws are in constant flux. It's hard to keep up with these changing laws, but it's worth your time, especially if you use marijuana. Now let's take a look at this specific California open container law.

Marijuana Open Container Law

Under California VC (vehicle code) 23222(b), it is illegal to drive with marijuana in the car that is:

  • Not in a container, or
  • In an open container (including a container with a broken seal)

California's open marijuana container crime is a fine-only infraction, much like a traffic ticket. The offense is punishable by a fine of up to $100 and no jail time. Importantly, you must have possession or be in control of the container to be found guilty. The law does not apply to situations where the container of marijuana is in the trunk of the car.

The open container law also does not apply to qualified medical marijuana patients. Patients must have a valid identification card or a physician's recommendation on them, and the marijuana must be in a closed container (with a broken or unbroken seal).

As you can see, there are ways to transport marijuana risk-free. It's always a good idea to drive with marijuana in your trunk, glove box, or another locked compartment. Yes, it is legal to drive with marijuana in the car if it is in a sealed container. No, it is not legal to drive under the influence of marijuana. To play it safe, keep marijuana out of site whenever driving.

Open Container as an Aggravating Factor

While having an open container is a fine-only offense, it can be seen as an aggravating factor, most commonly in DUI cases. Having an open container of alcohol or marijuana in your car is a sure-fire way to be suspected of driving under the influence. The officer who stops you might ask you if you've been drinking, ask you to step out of your car and have a look around inside your car. If you are arrested and eventually charged with DUI, the prosecution and the judge could view the open container as evidence of your guilt, which would make your case a challenging one to win. The container itself might even be confiscated as evidence. So, while a small infraction fine may not seem like a big deal, the effect such an infraction can have on a DUI case is significant and worth minding. It's also important to keep in mind that law enforcement equates marijuana in the car with DUI cases, as it is recreational now. This means any signs if marijuana can raise suspicion the way an open beer bottle can.

If you were arrested for a DUI and had an open container in the car, you should fight the open container ticket, if you received one. It's also important to speak with an attorney to determine whether your person and car were lawfully searched. If not, an attorney can file a motion to have the evidence seized suppressed from the case.

Protect Your Privacy

When laws change, so does industry. To comply with state laws, legal sellers of recreational marijuana must sell the product in sealed or closed containers. Make sure you check the container before you leave the store to ensure you can lawfully drive with it in your car. And, again, it's always a good idea to keep it in the trunk, glove box, or locked box in your car. This will help protect your privacy should you be stopped on suspicion of DUI in California.

Are you facing drug or alcohol charges? If so, contact attorney Christopher Martens and his legal team for expert counsel. Experienced in criminal defense, our Visalia area legal team can advise you of your options and help you take steps to fight your charges, so that you can clear your name. With over ten years of criminal defense experience, Christopher Martens will aggressively defend your rights and help you get the outcome you want. Call our Visalia or Hanford, CA offices at 559-967-7386 or email us at [email protected] for a free consultation.

About the Author

Christopher Martens

Bio Visalia and Bakersfield criminal defense attorney who has dedicated his life to helping those who have been accused of crimes or injured due to the negligence of others.


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