Fullerton Police Officer Jae Song conducts a field sobriety test on a driver suspected of driving while impaired by marijuana. Officer Lenny Ledbetter assisted on the stop. (Bill Alkofer, Orange County Register/SCNG)

Law

Bay Area News Group Editorial: Ban pot-smoking driving, marijuana billboards

In 2010, California voters rejected legalization of recreational marijuana use. Six years later, they reversed course when 57 percent backed Proposition 64.

The difference? A smarter ballot initiative with a clear recognition that it wasn’t perfect and the granting of authority to state lawmakers to make necessary changes.

Two bills introduced last month in the state Legislature provide much-needed refinements: One would ban marijuana advertising along state highways. The other would prohibit pot consumption while driving.

Both are clearly consistent with the voters’ will.

Proposition 64, the statewide initiative passed in the Nov. 8 election, allows adults 21 years or older to use marijuana, grow up to six plants in their homes and possess about an ounce of pot and about a quarter ounce of hash.

It also bans public pot smoking and driving under the influence of marijuana, although that element still needs refinement. In other words, the electorate wanted to decriminalize responsible marijuana use.

Billboards along Interstate 880 in the Bay Area touting Korova edible marijuana products’ “unrivaled potency” are not what voters had in mind. Nor would they want children to see roadside ads of pot icon Tommy Chong promoting his Chong’s Choice marijuana products on billboards along Highway 50 near Sacramento.

As we transition from medical marijuana use to legalization of recreational pot, these in-your-face promotions will proliferate if allowed. Most states, including California, ban roadside tobacco billboards. The same rules should apply to marijuana.

But Prop. 64 banned marijuana advertisements only on interstate highways crossing the border into California. Assembly Bill 64 — by Assemblymen Rob Bonta, D-Alameda, Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, and Jim Wood, D-Santa Rosa — would extend that to all California highways and freeways.

Similarly, the proposed ban on toking and driving is a no-brainer. Prop. 64 and prior law prohibit driving under the influence of pot or having an open container of marijuana. But they don’t specifically prohibit consuming weed while driving.

Just as we don’t allow drinking and driving, no matter the quantity, so too should we prohibit pot smoking behind the wheel. Senate Bill 65, by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, and Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, would do just that. Violation would be an infraction or a misdemeanor.

One of the biggest criticisms of Prop. 64 was the concern about stoned drivers. It presents a challenge to law enforcement because there is no reliable and simple test to measure impairment like there is for alcohol.

The initiative provides funding to develop such a test. Meanwhile, it’s obvious that just as drivers aren’t allowed to sip beer, they shouldn’t be permitted to puff pot.