Washington’s Open Container Laws

The laws and penalties for consuming and possessing open containers of alcohol and marijuana in a motor vehicle.

Washington generally prohibits consumption and possession of open containers of alcohol and marijuana in motor vehicles. However, these restrictions have a few exceptions. This article provides an overview of Washington’s open container laws and related regulations, exceptions to the laws, and the consequences for violations.

Consumption and Possession of Open Containers of Alcohol

Washington’s open container laws make it illegal for a person to drink any alcoholic beverage or to possess an open container of alcohol while in a motor vehicle that’s on a highway. Additionally, the registered owner of a motor vehicle is prohibited from keeping an open container of alcohol in the vehicle when it’s on a highway. If the registered owner isn’t present in the vehicle, the driver is responsible for the violation.

An “open container” is defined as a bottle, can, or other receptacle that has been opened, has a broken seal, or has had the contents partially removed.

Exceptions

Trunk of a vehicle. An open container of alcohol can lawfully be kept in the trunk of a vehicle. And if the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk, an open container must be kept in an area of the vehicle that’s not typically occupied by the driver or passengers. (Glove boxes and utility compartments are considered to be within the area occupied by the driver and passengers.)

Passengers in certain vehicles. Passengers can lawfully drink alcohol and possess open containers of alcohol in certain vehicles. These include:

  • the living area of a motor home or camper
  • licensed for-hire vehicles used for the transportation of persons for compensation, and
  • privately-owned vehicles operated by a person possessing a commercial driver’s license who is transporting passengers in the course of employment and at an employer’s direction.

However, the driver of any such vehicle is prohibited from possessing or consuming an alcoholic beverage.

Penalties

An open container violation is a traffic infraction in Washington. A conviction is punishable by a maximum fine of $250, plus fees. In lieu of the fine, an offender can elect to perform community service work at the state minimum wage rate.

However, the driver of a for-hire vehicle who drinks any intoxicating liquor in that vehicle commits a misdemeanor and faces up to 90 days in jail and/or a maximum $1,000 fine.

And anyone who permits a minor to consume liquor in the person’s motor vehicle or a motor vehicle under the person’s control is guilty of a gross misdemeanor. A conviction carries up to 364 days in jail and/or a maximum fine of $5,000.

Disguising Alcohol Beverage Containers

Washington also makes it illegal for a person to try to evade being caught for an open container violation by:

  • labeling the original container of an alcoholic beverage incorrectly, or
  • placing an alcoholic beverage in a container labeled as containing a nonalcoholic beverage.

A person who disguises an alcoholic beverage container and then violates the open container law commits a traffic infraction. The maximum fine is $250, plus fees.

Consumption and Possession of Open Containers of Marijuana

Washington’s open container laws also apply to marijuana. These laws prohibit passengers, the registered owner of a vehicle, and the driver of vehicle (if the registered owner isn’t present) from:

  • keeping marijuana in a motor vehicle that’s on a highway
  • consuming marijuana in any manner in a motor vehicle that’s on a public highway, and
  • placing marijuana in a container that’s labeled as containing a nonmarijuana substance and keeping it in a motor vehicle that’s on a highway.

If the original container of marijuana is labeled incorrectly and the person subsequently violates the open container law by keeping marijuana in a motor vehicle, there’s a rebuttable presumption that a violation has occurred. In other words, unless the defendant can prove otherwise, the court will assume that the defendant violated the marijuana open container law.

“Marijuana” includes all parts of the plant, seeds, resin, and every derivative of the plant, seeds, or resin. However, this definition doesn’t include the mature stalks of the plant, fiber made from the stalks, oil or cake made from seeds, or any other derivative of the mature stalks.

Exceptions

Marijuana can lawfully be kept in a motor vehicle if it’s in:

  • the trunk of the vehicle (or an area of the vehicle that’s not usually occupied by the driver or passengers if the vehicle doesn’t have a trunk), or
  • a package or container that hasn’t been opened, had the seal broken, or had the contents partially removed.

As with an open container of alcohol, an open container of marijuana can’t be kept in a glove or utility compartment because those areas are considered to be within the area occupied by the driver and passengers.

Penalties

Possession or consumption of marijuana in a motor vehicle is a traffic violation. Anyone who’s convicted faces a maximum fine of $250, plus fees.

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