Senator Hill & Assemblymember Low Introduce Bill to Outlaw Smoking Pot While Driving

December 29, 2016

For Immediate Release – Office of State Senator Jerry Hill

Using Pot While Driving Would Be Outlawed By Bill Introduced By Senator Jerry Hill and Assemblymember Evan Low
With Support From Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen

Legislation Closes Loophole in Prop. 64, Authorizes Penalties for Using Marijuana Products While Behind the Wheel

SACRAMENTO – State Senator Jerry Hill and Assemblymember Evan Low introduced Senate Bill 65 today to outlaw smoking marijuana while driving. The legislation, prompted by Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, closes a loophole in Proposition 64, the recreational marijuana initiative, which makes it illegal to have an open container of pot in a vehicle but fails to specifically address the use of marijuana products while behind the wheel.

“This legislation makes our laws for smoking while driving consistent with drinking while driving,” said Senator Hill, D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. “With New Year's Eve approaching, it's important to remind Californians that impaired driving can be deadly.”

“We see all-too-often the terrible toll impaired driving takes on our citizens.  This law underscores that driving is a serious responsibility that should be undertaken without impairment,” said Assemblymember Low, D-Silicon Valley.

“There is no difference between a joint and a can of beer to the family of a victim of impaired driving,” Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen said. “Senator Hill and Assemblyman Low have proposed a law that is a smart and reasonable approach to the problem of driving while high. Let’s all get home safely.” 

Under current law, California motorists can be arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana or other drugs, if they are unable to drive with the caution and care of a sober person. A basic offense is usually charged as a misdemeanor. There's no standard for marijuana impairment like the .08 blood alcohol content threshold used for drunk driving because technology for a roadside test of marijuana use is still being developed. But a law enforcement officer or a trained drug recognition expert working with police may deem a motorist marijuana impaired.

With the passage of Prop 64., motorists may be cited for an infraction for having an open container or package of marijuana in a vehicle as a result of provisions in the initiative that attempted to make laws on marijuana use and possession while driving consistent with laws on use and possession of alcohol while driving.

Unfortunately, nothing in Prop. 64 or pre-existing law expressly prohibits smoking or ingesting marijuana while driving – leaving law enforcement officers with limited options if a driver is spotted smoking or ingesting marijuana products.

The new legislation would make it an infraction for anyone to smoke or consume marijuana in any form while driving a vehicle or piloting a vessel or aircraft, consistent with the law on drinking while operating a car, boat or plane. The bill also provides judges with the option to penalize the offense as an infraction or a misdemeanor.

"Impaired driving endangers us all and this bill will give law enforcement and judges more tools to crack down on smoking pot or drinking while driving," said Senator Hill.

Senator Hill has authored several reforms in recent years to make roadways safer including license revocation for repeat DUI offenders (AB 1601 (Chapter 301, Statutes of 2010)) and preventing underage drinking on party buses (AB 45 (Chapter 461, Statutes of 2012)). This year his SB 1046 was signed continuing the ignition interlock device requirement for all DUI offenders in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Alameda and Tulare counties and expanding the requirement statewide starting in 2019.

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Resources:

Contacts:
For Senator Hill: Leslie Guevarra, 415-298-3404 leslie.guevarra@sen.ca.gov
For Assemblymember Evan Low: Gina Frisby, 916-671-9359 gina.frisby@asm.ca.gov 
For Santa Clara District Attorney Jeff Rosen: Sean Webby, 408-792-2997 swebby@dao.sccgov.org