Midweek Marijuana Law Review: Marijuana and Motor Vehicles

Did you know that Vermont’s new marijuana legislation started our as a transportation bill?

Disclaimer: This is not legal advice. I am not a lawyer. This piece is purely for informational purposes regarding Act 86, a Vermont bill that pertains only to Vermont and has no bearing on federal law.

It was originally introduced as H.511 and was about Motor vehicles; driving under the influence; open container; learner’s permits; seatbelts; incident clearance; liability. So how did it turn into a marijuana decriminalization bill? It seems that our government works in mysterious ways, eh?

Possession and Storage

1134. MOTOR VEHICLE OPERATOR; CONSUMPTION OR POSSESSION OF ALCOHOL OR MARIJUANA

(b) A person operating a motor vehicle on a public highway shall not possess any open container which contains an alcohol beverage or marijuana in the passenger area of the motor vehicle.

p. 19

&

1134a. MOTOR VEHICLE PASSENGER; CONSUMPTION OR POSSESSION OF ALCOHOL OR MARIJUANA

(b) A passenger in a motor vehicle shall not possess any open container which contains an alcoholic beverage or marijuana in the passenger area of the motor vehicle.

p. 20

A couple of questions arise from these two amended sections, like:

  • What is considered an open container of marijuana?
  • Does that mean smokable flowers itself or does that include edible marijuana, too?
  • Can you consume marijuana in your vehicle while off of a public highway or parked?
  • What defines the “passenger area” of the motor vehicle.

Luckily, that last question is answered later on.

1134. MOTOR VEHICLE OPERATOR; CONSUMPTION OR POSSESSION OF ALCOHOL OR MARIJUANA

(c) As used in this section:

(2) “Passenger area” shall mean the area designed to seat the operator and passengers while the motor vehicle is in operation and any area that is readily accessible to the operator or passengers while in their seating positions, including the glove compartment, unless the glove compartment is locked. In a motor vehicle that is not equipped with a trunk, the term shall exclude the area behind the last upright seat or any area not normally occupied by the operator or passengers.

p. 20

Essentially the passenger area means where you and passengers sit and can reach. It excludes the trunk, locked glove boxes, or in cases of hatchbacks and minivans, behind the last possible seat, and hard to access while the vehicle is in motion.

The other earlier questions are harder to answer, and will no doubt be addressed in Vermont courts. Although regarding open containers, medical users in Vermont are advised to use locked bags for both security reasons and for another layer of punitive protection. Which leads us to our next section.

Penalties

1134. MOTOR VEHICLE OPERATOR; CONSUMPTION OR POSSESSION OF ALCOHOL OR MARIJUANA

(d) … A person who possesses an open container which contains marijuana in violation of subsection (b) of this section shall be assessed a civil penalty of not more than $200.

p. 19

&

1134a. MOTOR VEHICLE PASSENGER; CONSUMPTION OR POSSESSION OF ALCOHOL OR MARIJUANA

(e) A person who consumes marijuana or possesses an open container which contains marijuana in violation of this section shall be assessed a civil penalty of not more than $200.

p. 20

So even having an “open container” of marijuana in your vehicle could lead to a $200 fine. It’s a steep fine, eight times the fine for open containers of alcohol in the car. This fine also applies to passengers who decide to consume marijuana in your vehicle. A much, much steeper fine is assessed if you, the operator, consumes marijuana in the vehicle. But we’ll get into that next week.  

Written by The Chad

Real name is T.J. Anania. Hi.

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