Capitol Alert

When can you drive with weed in your car? A consumer guide to California marijuana laws

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Marijuana countdown

Considering trying marijuana for personal - or medical - use?

Here's a primer on the new rules for 2018:

Q: Can I get in trouble for driving with marijuana in my car?

A: Similar to alcohol laws, the state can issue a $100 infraction for driving with an “open container.” The bill defines an open container as any receptacle of marijuana or weed products (edibles, vape pens, etc.) that is open, has been previously opened or has a broken seal, as well as loose cannabis flowers not in a container. You’re safe if you put your “open container” in the trunk.

Medical patients get an exemption. They can drive with a closed container of marijuana products that have been previously opened. Medical patients still aren’t allowed to drive while snacking on a pot brownie, though.

Q: How do police measure my weed intake to arrest me for driving under the influence?

A: There’s no method widely adopted by law enforcement or an agreed-upon level of marijuana impairment in your blood in California.

In most cases, if you are pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence, fail field sobriety tests and appear impaired, you will be asked to take a breath test for alcohol. If there’s little or no alcohol in your system and police suspect marijuana or other drug impairment, you may have to talk to a drug recognition expert and/or submit to a blood test.

It’s difficult to prove someone is driving high using a blood test alone. Marijuana remains in your system long after your high wears off. Pot content in blood varies by frequency of use, weight and body fat, among other factors that give false positive results.

A task force will provide recommendations to the Legislature for prevention and detection of impaired driving. Police agencies in several cities are testing a mouth-swab device that can determine whether drivers are stoned.

Q: Can I still get pot delivered to my house?

A: The industry estimates that roughly 50 percent of the medical cannabis sold in California reaches consumers via at-home delivery. The bill and other measures uphold that model. The bill requires licensed retailers to operate out of a physical location, such as a warehouse without public access, and allows them to conduct sales exclusively by delivery. Local communities have the ability to ban weed delivery in their jurisdictions.

Q: If I’m currently a medical marijuana patient, will I need to do anything differently under the new rules?

A: Patients can continue purchasing medical products with a doctor’s note. To skip the sales tax, though, patients must also obtain a state medical marijuana identification card from the county they reside in.

Q: Will my insurance cover medical marijuana prescriptions?

A: No. Unlike other prescriptions, laws do not make a governmental or private health insurance provider liable for reimbursement claims for the medical use of marijuana.

Q: Will California have separate stores for medical and recreational pot?

A: The bill allows retail stores to sell medical and recreational marijuana at the same location. Licensees can also apply to strictly sell medical or recreational, instead of both.

Q: Can my employer fire me if I fail a drug test?

A: The federal government considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug along with heroin, LSD and ecstasy, among others. Without changes at the federal level, employers in California are still allowed to operate drug-free workplaces and fire you for violating their rules related to marijuana consumption.

Q: Can I smoke weed on the street?

A: Smoking, eating or otherwise using marijuana in public is still illegal under Proposition 64. The measure bans retailers from both selling weed and alcohol, although it does give local jurisdictions the ability to allow marijuana consumption in retail spaces outside of public view.

Q: How much tax will I pay on pot sales?

A: Recreational products are subject to California sales tax, which ranges from 7.5 to 10 percent, that consumers pay at checkout. Medical marijuana patients can avoid the sales tax by obtaining a state identification card.

Other marijuana taxes will likely raise prices, too. In addition to a cultivation tax, Proposition 64 also established a 15 percent excise tax on the retail sale of medical and non-medical marijuana products, which retailers may pass on to consumers. Local jurisdictions also have the ability to pile on their own taxes.

Q: How much can I buy and cultivate myself?

A: Californians age 21 and older are allowed to carry up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and 8 grams of concentrates under Proposition 64. An individual is allowed to grow up to six plants at home. The plants must be in a locked area that is not visible from outside the property. The same rules apply to medical marijuana patients, who are allowed to use pot at their doctor’s recommendation beginning at age 18.

Local jurisdictions can ban outdoor cultivation, but cannot prohibit indoor cultivation. By law, you’re clear to grow plants in the garage if your town blocks you from growing in the backyard.

Editor’s note: This story was updated on December 7, 2017.

Taryn Luna: 916-326-5545, @TarynLuna