SACRAMENTO—California State Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) introduced Senate Bill 625 in April. SB 625 recently passed the senate and is now heading to the state assembly.
Hill introduced SB 625 in an attempt to close a “loophole” created by his Senate Bill 65 back in 2017. The already chaptered SB 65 used language that made the usage of alcohol, smoking, and cannabis “technically” legal in public transportation, such as buses and taxis.
SB 65 was passed to prohibit vehicle passengers from drinking any alcoholic beverage, smoking, or ingesting any cannabis product. However, passengers in buses, taxicabs, and limousines are exempt from this prohibition.
The new SB 625 is correcting the language by stating that the law will “instead exempt the ingestion of cannabis products by a passenger in bus, taxicab, or limousine only if there are no passengers under 21 years of age present and the driver is sealed off from the passenger compartment, as specified.”
According to California law, it is illegal to consume, smoke, eat, or vape cannabis in public. A person using marijuana must use it in a private area, such as in homes, designated shops, or private property.
If passed, this bill could be setting the stage for future, more widespread cannabis legalization. SB 625 is permitting the use of cannabis products on public transportation provided that all passengers are over the age of 21 and the driver has a sealed off compartment, separating the driver from cannabis users.
While the bill seems to be a move to benefit drivers, the underlying effect of this bill has led to people voicing their concern over the health and safety impacts.
Frank Lee, Bay Area Director for the California Coalition Against Drugs, noted that the bill will cause more people to be exposed to the dangers of secondhand smoke.
“In fact, marijuana lingers in the air longer than cigarettes do, and can cause much more harm. So why do we prohibit the smoking of cigarettes inside vehicles, but on the other hand, we are allowing or promoting the smoking of marijuana,” expressed Lee.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s Report, approximately 2.5 million adults who were nonsmokers died due to exposure of secondhand smoke.
Lee also described that the bill does not provide a clear definition of how driver compartments are to be sealed. This language ambiguity could lead to more loopholes and potentially put drivers in danger of secondhand smoke or physical interference from passengers under the influence of marijuana.
Additionally, Lee noted that there are challenges in verifying the legal age of all passengers who board a bus.
Another concern regarding this bill is the impact on city-level laws.
Although marijuana is legalized in the state of California, individual cities and counties have the right to regulate their own laws regarding marijuana use and legality on the city level.
An effect of SB 625 is it could override city laws, removing local level rights to make laws and decisions about marijuana on public transportation.
Lee explained, “it’s quite tricky, because right now a lot of things about marijuana laws are still up in the air and is still subject to interpretation. Now, technically, state law supersedes local ordinances.”
In 2016, Proposition 64 granted authority to individual cities and counties to restrict where and if marijuana is legal within their jurisdiction.
While the bill is attempting to close a loophole by protecting drivers from secondhand smoke, the statewide side effects are a concern for many.
If the bill is passed, there will be a question of whether the contents of the bill will supersede city decision rights on marijuana use on public transportation or if cities will keep their current power of making local decisions.
Currently, SB 625 has passed the senate committee and is being referred to the State Assembly’s Committee of Communications and Conveyance for reading.
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Author: Cynthia Cai