Open Container Laws in California

July 17, 2018

In California, drivers and passengers are prohibited from having an open container of alcohol in the vehicle while in transit or parked. Recent updates to this law also govern marijuana use in a moving vehicle. Understanding the open container law Los Angeles can prevent you from receiving a costly ticket. If you have received a citation for an open container, talk with an attorney about how this can affect you professionally and financially before you plead guilty and pay the fine.

Alcohol and Marijuana Consumption

The open container laws prohibit alcohol and marijuana from being consumed by a driver or passenger in a moving vehicle. This includes not only cannabis in plant form, such as in a packed pipe or other ready-to-consume form, but also applies to concentrates and edibles. The new provisions for cannabis use as part of the open container law took effect in December 2017 in response to the state’s legalization of the drug for recreational use.

In most cases, drivers are not cited for having an open container or consuming a substance behind the wheel unless they appear to be intoxicated. In this instance, the officer would stop the vehicle and conduct a field sobriety test, likely citing the driver for a DUI in addition to an open container ticket.

Open Container Possession

This portion of the law pertains to both loose cannabis flower and open alcohol containers. A container is considered open in these circumstances:

  • The seal is broken.
  • The top has been opened.
  • Some of the contents have been consumed.

Even a bag of empty beer bottles you’re taking to a recycling center could be cause for an open container ticket if you are pulled over on your way.

While drivers are permitted to store loose marijuana in the trunk of the vehicle, this exception does not apply to alcohol. Open container laws may also apply if the vehicle is parked on a state roadway or a designated off-roading area; the vehicle does not necessarily have to be in motion.

If you receive an open container ticket California, however, your California ticket lawyer may be able to successfully negotiate on your behalf if the substance in question was in the trunk or your vehicle was parked at the time of the infraction. The open container laws do not apply to motorhomes, campers, and hired vehicles including limousines, buses, pedicabs, and taxis.

Penalties for Open Container Tickets

The fine for loose marijuana in a vehicle is a maximum of $100, while an open container of alcohol carries a maximum $250 penalty. The driver and any passengers may each receive a separate fine.

If anyone in the vehicle is younger than 21, however, he or she may be charged with a misdemeanor that carries up to $1,000 in fines and six months in jail. This can occur even if the minor in question was a passenger, not the driver, and even if the container in question was completely sealed.

Drivers who receive this type of ticket will likely face higher auto insurance premiums. You can also lose any professional driver certifications you currently hold, putting your career at risk.

A good traffic ticket lawyer can understand the common defenses for open container tickets and argue for a more lenient penalty. The judge may rule in your favor if your attorney can prove that the alcohol was in the trunk, you were in a hired vehicle, you were stopped without probable cause, or the open container was found in an illegal search and seizure.

Contact the experienced ticket lawyers at The Ticket Clinic for a free consultation about your open container ticket. Call us at 1-800-CITATION to learn more about how we have defended drivers in more than 3 million traffic offenses since 1987.