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California Open Container Laws for Alcohol and Marijuana

California has strict open-container laws for alcohol inside a vehicle. California vehicle codes also apply to marijuana in the car, requiring marijuana to be sealed if it is carried in the vehicle. In most cases, an open container violation is a simple infraction. However, an open container could lead police to further investigate, which may lead to an arrest for drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs.

If you were arrested for a DUI in Oakland or the East Bay, an attorney can review your case and represent you in court to fight misdemeanor drunk driving charges. In some cases, an unlawful search may have prompted the arrest and your attorney can make sure your rights are protected. Talk to an experienced California DUI defense attorney for help.

California Open Container Vehicle Laws

An open container refers to an opened container of alcohol or marijuana inside a vehicle. Under California Vehicle Code 23222(a), "a person shall not have in their possession on their person, while driving a motor vehicle, a bottle, can, or other receptacle, containing an alcoholic beverage which has been opened, or a seal broken, or the contents of which have been partially removed."

If you are drinking wine at a restaurant and take home the rest of the bottle, make sure you store it in your trunk because if it is inside the vehicle, it could be considered an open container. The same applies to filling a growler at a local brewery. 

After the legalization of marijuana use and possession for recreational use in California, cannabis can freely be purchased, possessed, and used by adults aged 21 and over. However, the same open container rules also apply to cannabis, involving possession in a vehicle of a receptacle containing cannabis or cannabis products that have been opened or have a seal broken, or loose cannabis flower not in a container. 

There are exceptions to the marijuana open container rules for medical marijuana patients, as long as they are carrying a current identification card or physician's recommendation and the cannabis is in a sealed, resealed, or closed container. 

Penalties for Underage Open Container Violations

Drivers under the age of 21 in possession of alcohol may face more serious penalties than a simple infraction. Under California Vehicle Code 23224, a driver under the age of 21 carrying any alcoholic beverage can be charged with a misdemeanor, and face jail time of up to 6 months, a fine of up to $1,000, and have their vehicle impounded. 

Open Containers of Alcohol on California Streets

Other states don't have the same strict alcohol container laws as California. Many California residents are familiar with visits to Las Vegas where they can walk the strip with a beer or pina colada without any worry of getting hassled by the police. In California, law enforcement may still stop you and ticket you if you are drinking in public, even if you are not causing trouble. 

Under California Business & Professions Code 25620, it is an infraction for "any person possessing any can, bottle, or other receptacle containing any alcoholic beverage that has been opened, or a seal broken, or the contents of which have been partially removed, in any city, county, or city and county owned park or other city, county, or city and county owned public place, or any recreation and park district, or any regional park or open-space district." 

Even if you aren't drinking the alcohol, an open container at a park or on most beaches in California can result in a ticket. There are limited exceptions, including getting approval for a licensed event or the handful of beaches that do permit alcohol, such as Kehoe Beach in Point Reyes

Some police officers have hassled individuals for open containers just as a way to search the person. Just because you have an open beer can does not necessarily mean you are breaking the rules. The law specifically does not apply when an individual is in possession of an alcoholic beverage container for the purpose of recycling. However, if the can is full, it may be harder to claim you were simply recycling the can. 

No Drinking for Passengers in Vehicles

It may seem obvious that California law prohibits drivers from drinking alcohol while driving. However, the drinking prohibition also applies to passengers. Under California Vehicle Code 23221(b), "A passenger shall not drink any alcoholic beverage or smoke or ingest marijuana or any marijuana product while in a motor vehicle being driven upon a highway."

When Can You Drink in a Car?

There are limited exceptions when you can drink alcohol in a motor vehicle. Under California Vehicle Code 23229, the prohibitions against drinking alcohol in a car do not apply to passengers in any: 

  • Bus
  • Taxicab
  • Limousine
  • Living quarters of a housecar or camper
  • Pedicab

The taxi exceptions don't apply to Uber and Lyft rides. Uber specifically provides "drug use and open containers of alcohol are never allowed while using the Uber platform." According to Lyft, "open containers are not allowed in the car, and turning a blind eye to them can result in deactivation from our platform."

Talk to an East Bay DUI Defense Lawyer About Your Case

Even if an open container violation is just an infraction, it can escalate to a drunk driving arrest if the police have probable cause to believe the driver is impaired. Lynn Gorelick has more than 39 years of East Bay DUI defense experience and understands how much is at stake after a drunk driving arrest. She understands how to approach the individual facts of each case for the greatest chance of success to keep her clients out of jail. If you are facing DUI charges anywhere in Oakland, Alameda County, or Contra Costa County, contact Lynn Gorelick. 

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