Marijuana open container bill would make it harder to prove a violation

Ever since Colorado's medical marijuana boom, law enforcers have been worried about people driving stoned -- and these concerns likely helped motivate strict open-container laws related to marijuana.

But now, following the launch of recreational pot sales, one of Colorado's most powerful legislators has introduced a bill that would make it more difficult to prove an open-container violation -- and a marijuana attorney sees the move as a positive one.

The lawmaker in question is Senator Pat Steadman, whose major accomplishments include shepherding Colorado's civil unions law to passage. He's also the sponsor of Senate Bill 14-129, described on its title page as "A Bill for an Act Concerning Changes to Criminal Provisions Related to Marijuana."

We've included the entire document below, but its summary focuses on three sections. The first "adds consumption and possession of marijuana and possession of marijuana paraphernalia to the crime of underage possession or consumption of alcohol" and tweaks the penalty structure. The second, for its part, encourages the Peace Officers Standards and Training board to "offer an advanced roadside impaired driving training an elective to basic field sobriety training recertification."

And the third? According to SB-14-129, "The bill changes the open marijuana container crime to require that prosecution prove that the container has a broken seal, that the contents were partially removed, and that there is evidence that marijuana was consumed in the vehicle." The passage notes that "current law only requires proof of one of those three elements."

Attorney and marijuana advocate Warren Edson highlights the significance of this last potential alteration. He calls the regulations in place now "a very broad interpretation of open container. It appears to suggest that short of keeping it in your trunk, or in a lock box in the back of your vehicle, you could fairly easily be charged with open container."

Indeed, police representatives "have been recommending that you keep it in your trunk under the broader definition of open container we've been living under for the past six months or so," Edson continues. "Just having a container that wasn't sealed was enough to get you charged with open container," even if there was no evidence any of the product itself was missing, let alone that it had been consumed in the car.

In Edson's view, Steadman's bill needn't be seen as weakening other statutes related to vehicles and pot. "We're not talking reckless driving or DUI," he stresses. "We're only talking about open container."

At the same time, though, he's cognizant of political realities. Bills routinely undergo changes as they navigate the legislative process, and there's no guarantee the open-container language will survive. But as written, he sees it as "nice protection for folks driving home from a store with their medical marijuana or recreational marijuana."

Here's the bill.

Senate Bill 14-129

Send your story tips to the author, Michael Roberts.

More from our Marijuana archive circa December 2013: "Denver pot-smoking tickets 19 times higher in 2013 than in 2012."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts