Question: I was driving on Highway 16 the other day and passed a guy in the right lane who was very clearly smoking a marijuana pipe as he was driving.
He was steering with his elbows while using a lighter to light the pipe bowl.
I know times have changed with our new marijuana law, but could this possibly be legal?
What would state troopers or the Tacoma Police do if they saw the same thing? Jonathan, Tacoma
Answer: We asked the Washington State Patrol and the Tacoma Police and got the same answer.
The guy almost certainly would be pulled over, they said, and if what he had in the pipe was in fact marijuana he was breaking the states new law.
Initiative 502 legalized possession of marijuana but not public consumption. When youre out on the road, your car qualifies as a public place because people can see inside.
The trooper may stop the vehicle based on reasonable suspicion that the driver may be impaired from marijuana use, said State Patrol spokesman Guy Gill.
The trooper may also stop the vehicle based on probable cause that the driver is committing the infraction of consuming marijuana in public.
Loretta Cool, spokesman for TPD, noted that marijuana use and possession continue to be low-priority crimes in Tacoma. But, she said, We will write the violations if we come across them.
Cool saw two separate issues in the readers scenario:
First, she said, was his smoking interfering with his ability to drive? Was there a driving violation, like crossing over the lane line or failing to signal a lane change or possibly speeding?
If there was a driving violation, he would be stopped for that and then possibly cited for the marijuana which was consumed in view of the general public, Cool said. Smoking marijuana in public is still illegal.
Heres how Section 21 of Washingtons new marijuana law puts it: It is unlawful to open a package containing marijuana, useable marijuana, or a marijuana-infused product, or consume marijuana, useable marijuana, or a marijuana-infused product, in view of the general public. A person who violates this section is guilty of a class 3 civil infraction under chapter 7.80 RCW.
Aside from the marijuana, both Guy and Cool were disturbed by the fact that the driver was steering with his elbows while lighting the pipe.
There are many people who drive down the road doing unbelievable things such as applying make-up, making sandwiches or even reading books, Cool said.
All of these things are driver distractions. Officers look for the driving violations that are caused by the distractions. The distractions are usually written on tickets as an explanation for the bad driving.
Have a question about traffic congestion, construction, spending or other transportation issues? Send it to email@example.com. Include your name, hometown and daytime telephone number. Well answer as many as we can.