By Van Smith
Baltimore, March 1, 2019
“How could it be that it’s okay to have a bong in your car, and smoking it, but you’re not able to have an open container of alcohol?” Steve Kroll, speaking on behalf of the Maryland State’s Attorney’s Association (MSAA), on Feb. 26 asked of the Maryland senators he hopes will vote to close a driving-with-weed loophole that has become an incongruence in the age of decriminalization.
In the real world, if police observed someone doing bong hits in a car, it’d be a good bet that charges would result. But the prosecutor’s point remains: “Our goal is … safe driving,” Kroll explained to the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPC), adding, “this is a driving bill more than it is a marijuana bill.”
It would accomplish that by, in essence, adding cannabis to the existing open-container law that currently pertains only to alcohol, as FSC reported in prior coverage. Someone caught using cannibis in the passenger area of a vehicle, moving or not on a highway, would be subject to a $500 misdemeanor crime and a point on their driving record, or three points should the violation involve an accident, if Senate Bill 418 becomes law.
“All this does is put marijuana on the same footing as Bud Light in terms of having it in your car,” Senator sponsor Robert Cassilly (R-District 34) of Harford County told his colleagues during his testimony.
“It’s important,” Cassilly added, “as marijuana use becomes more prevalent and because we’ve decriminalized the use of marijuana, that we send the appropriate message.” In this case, he continued, the message is directed “to particularly the young drivers: that marijuana is not an appropriate substitute for the Budweiser that you’d like to drink in your car, that you can’t just simply drop off one kind of bud for another.”
JPC vice chair William Smith Jr. (D-District 20, Montgomery County) asked about how the bill would address “edibles,” the broad range of cannabis products that produce no second-hand smoke because they are eaten, not combusted.
“Edibles would not apply to passengers, only to drivers” explained MSAA’s David Daggett, adding that “primarily we’re concerned with the passenger smoking and the driver smoking” because cannabis smoke can affect others in a vehicle’s passenger area.
If opposition to the bill exists, no one rose to voice it during the Feb. 26 hearing. Testimony on its Democrat-sponsored companion bill, House Bill 350, was taken by the Judiciary Committee on Feb. 19.