Monthly Archives: July 2017

California’s New “Open Container” Law Applies to Driving With Marijuana in the Car

California has had medical marijuana since 1996. And in November 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana use in the state. (Read the specifics of California’s marijuana laws.) The result was a patchwork of laws that—while achieving the primary purposes—left the public with safety concerns and law enforcement with questions about enforcement.

In an effort to address the public safety and enforcement issues, the Legislature passed S.B. 94 (the “Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act”). Governor Jerry Brown signed S.B. 94 into law on June 27, 2017.

One issue tackled by S.B. 94 is how to deal with motorists who are in possession of marijuana while driving. Essentially, the legislation amends the existing alcohol “closed container” law—California Vehicle Code section 23222 (2017)—to include marijuana. The new law prohibits driving while in possession of any “receptacle” containing cannabis that has been “opened or has a seal broken, or loose cannabis flower not in a container.” The law, however, doesn’t restrict open containers of marijuana stored in the trunk of the car. And medical marijuana patients can drive while in possession of marijuana if carrying a valid medical marijuana card or physician’s recommendation and the container is either “sealed, resealed, or closed.”

A violation of the marijuana closed container law is an infraction and carries a maximum $100 fine.

(Find out about how marijuana legalization has affected California’s DUI laws.)

California Stops Suspending Driver’s Licenses for Unpaid Traffic Tickets

In recent years, California has made efforts to alleviate the burden unpaid traffic citations place on low-income motorists.

The first major step was the start of the traffic-ticket amnesty program in October 2015. The amnesty program allowed certain people with unpaid traffic or non-traffic infraction tickets to apply for fine reductions and license reinstatement. Over 200,000 Californians were able to take advantage of traffic amnesty. However, the program ended on April 3, 2017.

But not to worry—Governor Jerry Brown recently signed legislation that brings drivers more permanent relief. The new law (which went into effect on June 27, 2017) prohibits courts and the Department of Motor Vehicles from suspending a driver’s license for simply failing to pay a traffic ticket fine. In approving the legislation, the governor commented that the threat of license suspension didn’t help the state collect unpaid fines but often led to undesirable consequences such as loss of employment and parents being unable to transport kids to and from school.

(Get more details about the new law and what the California Legislature is doing on this front.)

Another Court Rules in Favor of Freedom to Record the Police

In a February 2016 decision, a federal judge broke from all the other courts in the country that had acknowledged a First Amendment right to record the police. The judge essentially held that people who don’t announce that they oppose what police officers are doing don’t have the right to observe and photograph those officers. (Here’s the opinion, and here’s our post on it.)

In July of 2017, though, a panel from the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that federal judge. The court unequivocally endorsed the position that so many others had taken—that there is a First Amendment right to record police activity in public. Noting that “[e]very Circuit Court of Appeals to address this issue (First, Fifth, Seventh, Ninth, and Eleventh)” had agreed with the proposition, the court reiterated what’s becoming an increasingly clear principle of law:

“[T]he First Amendment protects the act of photographing, filming, or otherwise recording police officers conducting their official duties in public.” (Fields v. City of Philadelphia, No. 16-1650 (3d Cir. 2017).)