Marijuana

Going for a drive? Don’t forget to stash that bag of weed

A package containing legal marijuana at Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham. By state law, you can’t legally transport pot or pot-infused products that have been opened in your vehicle, except in a place that’s not accessible to the driver or passengers.
A package containing legal marijuana at Top Shelf Cannabis in Bellingham. By state law, you can’t legally transport pot or pot-infused products that have been opened in your vehicle, except in a place that’s not accessible to the driver or passengers. The Bellingham Herald

Driving around with pot in a container that’s been opened?

You’d better put it in the trunk of your car unless you want a $136 ticket.

That’s been the case since Sept. 26, when the state’s new open-container law for marijuana went into effect.

That means you can’t legally transport pot or pot-infused products that have been opened in your vehicle, except in a place that’s not accessible to the driver or passengers.

The glove box and console are considered accessible, the Washington State Patrol said.

“Open” means the seal on the original package has been broken.

The violation is a traffic infraction.

State voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2012 when they approved Initiative 502, but that measure didn’t forbid transporting open containers of pot in vehicles.

This new open-container law does.

The state patrol said it is both stepping up enforcement and educating the public. But it’s up to individual officers to decide whether to give a warning or a ticket.

“There’s no grace period,” said patrol spokesman Mark Francis.

That seems to be the same message from the Bellingham Police Department and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office.

“We know that this is a newly developed violation and that is taken into account by our officers,” Bellingham Police Lt. Bob Vander Yacht said. “Our officers are not restricted from issuing a notice of infraction if they deem that to be most appropriate for the given situation.”

Undersheriff Jeff Parks said on Wednesday, Oct. 14, that deputies hadn’t yet written a ticket to someone who violated the law, but that doesn’t mean there’s a waiting period to do so.

“It is out there,” Parks said. “I think there’s been a lot of notice to the public.”

The new law also banned smoking or consuming pot while in a moving vehicle, which also wasn’t specifically addressed in I-502.

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission pushed for the law so rules for marijuana would be similar to those for alcohol.

“You don’t drive around drinking a beer in Washington, thank goodness,” said Shelly Baldwin, spokeswoman for the Traffic Safety Commission, the highway safety office for the state. “That alignment of separating impairing substances from driving is important to us.”

Reach Kie Relyea at 360-715-2234 or kie.relyea@bellinghamherald.com.

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