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Marijuana possession in vehicles: Is it a crime?

On Behalf of | Feb 2, 2024 | Criminal Law |

Marijuana legislation varies widely across the United States; not all states have legalized the substance for recreational purposes. And while Montana may have approved cannabis for personal non-medical consumption in 2021, the state still has strict laws on when and where one can use the substance.

For instance, it’s against state law to possess cannabis while inside a motor vehicle. What are the specifics of this restriction, and what are the penalties for those who violate the rules? More importantly, is it a crime?

Possession inside a vehicle is not a criminal offense

According to Montana law, it’s an offense to possess marijuana, marijuana products or related paraphernalia inside the passenger area of a motor vehicle. However, it’s not a criminal offense.

Violators of the law face up to $100 in fines but no criminal charges.

What counts as the “passenger area” of a motor vehicle?

The passenger area of a vehicle is defined as the area designed to seat the driver and passengers while the vehicle is in operation. This includes any area with reach of any occupant. This means that for as long as the cannabis product is within reach of any vehicle occupant, they can face penalties for possession.

However, the law will make an exception for marijuana stored away through the following methods:

  • Cannabis that has been purchased from a dispensary that remains unopened in its original packaging
  • Stored in a locked glove box or similar other locked compartment
  • Stored in a motor vehicle trunk, truck bed or luggage compartment separate from the passenger area
  • Stored behind the last upright seat of a motor vehicle without a trunk
  • Stored in a closed container in a motor vehicle without a trunk away from any passengers

As long as the marijuana is stored like the above examples, drivers and passengers won’t violate any laws.

When can marijuana inside a vehicle lead to crime?

Using marijuana while driving can lead to a criminal offense, specifically driving under the influence (DUI). The substance can impair a driver’s ability to control their vehicle, and officers will have reason to pull the vehicle over for a traffic stop. A conviction for a first-time DUI offense leads to up to six months of imprisonment and $1,000 in fines.

Similarly, Montana’s marijuana possession laws still apply. A driver found to have more than one ounce of cannabis can face criminal charges.

So, no – it’s not a crime to possess marijuana while inside a vehicle, but it’s still a punishable offense. Also, drivers and passengers can still face criminal charges for DUI or possession over one ounce. Consider consulting a legal professional to guide your case if you face either charge.