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Cannabis in the car: Here's what you need to know

Where can you keep cannabis in your vehicle while you're driving?
cannabis marijuana 2016
Some people are finding out the hard way that marijuana legalization isn't a free pass to have the stuff on you anywhere you go. (File)

Some people are finding out the hard way that marijuana legalization isn't a free pass to have the stuff on you anywhere you go.

The Ontario Provincial Police charged a pair of drivers this month for having cannabis readily available in their vehicle. On Jan. 6, a 22-year-old man from Elliot Lake was caught speeding, and when officers pulled him over they found cannabis readily available.

On Jan. 14, OPP officers checked on a motorist who was parked on the shoulder of Highway 69 in Burwash and discovered that he had cannabis readily available in his vehicle. The 62-year-old man from Simcoe County was charged under the Cannabis Control Act.

But what, exactly, does "readily available" mean? OPP Cst. Carmel McDonald says that motorists need to familiarize themselves with cannabis laws and where you can and can't have marijuana in your vehicle.

"If you're travelling with cannabis in your vehicle it should be packed into your baggage and fastened closed," said McDonald. "The bag should not be available to you or any occupant of your vehicle."

In other words, if you have marijuana on you, treat it the same way you would an unsealed container of liquor - pack it away in the trunk of your vehicle where it's not accessible to the driver or passengers.

The laws related to sealed containers of cannabis, like those purchased from the Ontario Cannabis Store, can be kept anywhere in your vehicle, as long as they have not been opened.

"If it's in its original packaging and unopened, you can keep it anywhere in the vehicle, you can have it right beside you," said McDonald. "It's the same as a case of beer, if it hasn't been opened, it's not illegal to have it there."

Marijuana containers that have already been opened however, must be stored as indicated above - packed away and out of reach of anyone in the vehicle.

"Unfortunately, people think that because it's legal they think it's just a free-for-all out there," said McDonald. "All they heard was that it's legal, they didn't bother to look into and they're finding out the hard way."

The set fine for being caught with cannabis readily available in your vehicle is $175, and the total payable amount is $215 after a victim surcharge is tacked on. Drivers caught with cannabis available in their vehicles also put themselves at risk of further charges as they may be subject to a field sobriety test.

"Obviously that would raise suspicion if you're in your motor vehicle with cannabis," said McDonald. 

If you are found to be under the influence of cannabis while driving, your first offence will net you a three-day licence suspension. Second offence is a seven-day suspension, and on your third time caught driving under the influence of cannabis, it's a 30-day licence suspension.

Under the influence of cannabis is a different charge than being caught driving while impaired by cannabis. If you're found to be impaired it's a 90-day suspension.

"We have standard field sobriety tests on the roadside, if you fail that it's a three-day suspension," said McDonald. "If you then go on to fail at the office, that's impaired."

You can get more details on the Ontario Cannabis Control Act here.