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Washington's "Open Container" Laws

Posted Tuesday, June 30, 2020 by Andrew Charles Huff

Washington has open container laws that are in place to discourage the act of literally drinking while driving. However, Washington state has an additional factor in open container law: marijuana.

What is an Open Container?

A summer approaches, I normally hear from folks cited for an “open container” violation while at in public with friends or family members.

An “open container” describes any container with alcohol that has a broken seal or with liquid partially removed. Whether it’s a flask or a half drank bottle in the back seat, it is considered an open container.

Cannabis is also included under open container laws and is an infraction to drive while consuming cannabis in any form. This could also include keeping marijuana in an unmarked container. Washington law is specific in describing cannabis as any part of the plant. Whether it’s seeds, leaves, stems, or buds, having it within a driver’s reach could result in a fine.

Are There Exceptions?

You may store open alcohol or cannabis in a vehicle so long as it is unreachable from the driver’s seat. That normally means the trunk or the bed of a truck. Any open container should go in the very back of the car.

For commercial vehicles such as party buses and limos, it is legal to consume alcohol on these vehicles because they normally have a license granting them an exception to the rule. License holders can serve alcohol in a moving vehicle so long as they receive payment for doing so.

RVs and Campers are also exempt from Washington’s open container laws. Drinking in one of these vehicles does not require a license so long as it occurs in the vehicle’s living space and not in the vehicle’s cabin.