New law affects drivers who use marijuana

A new law affects drivers who use marijuana in Bellingham, Whatcom County, and all other drivers in the State of Washington. While marijuana usage has been legal recreationally here for over two years, the state recently passed a law that makes using marijuana while driving illegal.

House Bill 1276 prohibits the transport of pot in unsealed containers. Similar to open-container laws concerning alcohol, this means that drivers can’t have a joint or open bag or marijuana in their vehicle. It also includes uneaten edibles. These items must all be stowed out of reach, such as in the trunk or behind the car’s rearmost row of seats in securely closed containers.

The new law takes effect on September 26. Initiative 502, the statute that legalized recreational marijuana usage, included the maximum amount of allowable THC in a driver's blood. However, the bill contained no explicit language saying a person could not smoke and drive.

The state also is trying to determine how best to keep high drivers off the road. Taking a cue from laws regulating Blood Alcohol Content, one of the ways is to limit the amount of THC active in someone's blood. THC of course is the compound that makes someone high. Currently, drivers who are blood-tested and found to have a minimum of five nanograms of active THC in their systems are supposed to face a 90-day suspension of their license, from the original Intiative 502 that legalized recreational pot. This went on the books in 2012, when marijuana officially became legal here in Washington State.

The laws continue to evolve, however, as the system grapples with this complex issue. In 2013 the legislature voted to remove the ability of the state Department of Licensing to enact these suspensions. While it’s still illegal to have that amount of THC in one’s system, the consequence for being caught were gone. This new bill restores license suspension privileges to the DOL.

For more information, follow links to the following articles:

New Law Will Ban Open Containers of Pot In Cars – the Bellingham Herald

House Bill 1276: Concerning impaired driving

Intiative 502 - Wikipedia entry

 

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