Open-container law for marijuana gets hearing in Missouri House

(Missouri Independent) – A Missouri House committee discussed a bill Thursday meant to mirror Illinois’ open-container law for having marijuana in vehicles.

The bill from Rep. Kent Haden, R-Mexico, would require all marijuana products in vehicles to be kept in odor-proof and child-proof containers. 

“I don’t claim to be an expert on marijuana – I’ve never inhaled,” Haden said, earning laughs from members of the House Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee. “So let’s clear the air.”

The idea for the legislation, Haden said, came from local sheriffs who expressed frustration about enforcing the driving while intoxicated provisions under the 38-page constitutional amendment, which appeared on the November ballot as Amendment 3 and was approved by voters.

People can’t consume marijuana while driving a vehicle – or while riding in a vehicle — under Amendment 3. However, officers can’t use smelling marijuana as the “basis for detention, search or arrest.”

“Amendment 3 specifically prohibits even passengers from smoking marijuana in the car,” said Audrain County Sheriff Matt Oller, testifying in favor of the bill. “However, it lays out nothing as far as how we deal with that. There’s no process. Nobody knows.”

He called Amendment 3 “a 38-page mess” that doesn’t address public safety or how to deal with consuming marijuana on public roadways.

“My family drives up and down the road every day,” he said. “The last thing I want is them hit by an intoxicated driver.”

Haden said the bill was modeled after Illinois’ 2021 open-container law for marijuana.

Several members of the committee — and even a representative from McCann Trade, an association for cannabis professionals — said they supported the intent of the bill. But they didn’t think an open-container law would get at the heart of the concerns: Preventing both intoxicated drivers and child poisoning.

“I was around when open-container laws came into existence in the early 70s,” said Rep. Lane Roberts, R-Joplin, who chairs the committee, “and some really foolish decisions descended from that. Sometimes when we don’t understand either the intent or the letter of the law, we make mistakes.”

Missouri currently doesn’t have an open-container law for alcohol. It’s only a crime when someone is seen drinking while driving, said Rep. Jeff Myers, R-Warrenton, who served as a Missouri Highway Patrol trooper for almost 30 years. 

And an open-container law for marijuana would be more complicated than alcohol, he said, because the products are packaged in a number of different ways. 

 “On the enforcement side is how I look at it,” Myers said, “it’s going to be pretty difficult to be able to drill down into what’s an open container.”

Rep. Ian Mackey, D-St. Louis said the idea of something being child-proof is also vague.

“You go to the marijuana store, they don’t give it to you in a childproof container,” Mackey said. “So that requires anybody who buys marijuana to then transfer it to some other sort of [container]. That’s asking a lot.”

MoCann Trade’s lobbyist, Tom Robbins, and two Missourians testified against the bill. 

“We do not endorse impaired driving in any way, shape or form,” Robbins said. “There are some problems just in terms of the application…. The Illinois program is statutory, and ours is constitutional. And so that sets up different standards for review.”

One man, Kevin Hurdle, testified that he’s worried that this is the legislators attempting to walk back Amendment 3.

“First, it starts off as a misdemeanor,” he said. “Then it’s probably going to get more strict. I’m just looking at this as kind of an encroachment, where maybe one day they can come back and make marijuana illegal again.”

Rep. Bill Allen, R-Kansas City, doesn’t think Hurdle would be alone in that fear. Voters “made their choice,” he said and would see this as legislators trying to usurp that decision.

“Maybe we give it some time,” Allen said. “And if this does appear to be a problem, then we can come up with a mutable solution.”

Allen then added to Haden: “I also just wanted to mention that if you do inhale, it’s a whole lot better.”

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