(Andy Cross, Denver Post file)

Keep the marijuana in the trunk, Colorado law enforcers say

When it comes to a new Colorado law that covers having marijuana in vehicles, lawyers and law enforcement officers have some advice: Don’t try to decipher it. Just keep the weed in the trunk.

The new law, SB-283, goes into effect Wednesday when recreational marijuana becomes legal, but some of those charged with enforcing the law or representing those who might break it, have yet to unravel its fine points and, for now, are recommending the trunk as the easiest way to avoid problems.

“It’s not a functional ordinance. It’s got some problems,” said Christian Sederberg, a Denver attorney who has served as co-chair of the Consumer Safety and Social Issues working group of the Amendment 64 Implementation Task Force.

The law was put together during the last legislative session after Amendment 64 passed, making recreational marijuana legal in Colorado. It was modeled on the open container laws governing alcohol in vehicles.

The law requires that marijuana in vehicles on public roadways or right-of-ways be in a sealed container and that the seal should not be broken. But it doesn’t specify what a sealed container is. The locked containers required for pot shop sales would certainly suffice. But what about a closed baggie? A travel pill holder? A spice jar?

There are also a lot of exceptions in SB-283. Pot in an open container cannot be in the vehicle or even the glovebox where it is “readily accessible,” unless that vehicle is designed, maintained and primarily used to transport people for compensation. So unsealed weed in the back seats of cabs or limousines is OK. Open weed in living quarters of a recreational vehicles is too.

It’s also OK to have unsealed pot way in the back of those stretch vans or SUVs without trunks as long as it is behind the last upright seats.

The serious intent of the law — and the part that won’t be open to interpretation — is the consumption of marijuana while driving.

“Some of this will be up to the discretion of officers who make stops,” said Dave Hall, the legislative liaison for the Colorado State Patrol. “From the law enforcement perspective, we just don’t want to see people dying on the highways.”

For those who are ticketed for having pot in open containers, the offense will be considered a traffic infraction and the fine will be $50.

Hall said he expects legislators, working with stakeholders on every side of marijuana legalization, to get to work changing the open container law for pot after the legislative session begins Jan. 8.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, said he will do just that because he recognizes the law needs work.

“We want to make sure it doesn’t have loopholes,” he said.

In the meantime, he likes the trunk idea of law enforcers.

“Frankly, that might be good advice,” he said.

Nancy Lofholm: 970-256-1957, nlofholm@denverpost.com or twitter.com/nlofholm

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