California’s Cannabis Party Bus Bill Inches Forward

On Monday, members of the California State Assembly’s Transportation Committee weighed in on Senate Bill 625, which seeks to bar passengers from smoking or vaping cannabis products in vehicles like buses, taxicabs, and limousines, with a “limited exemption” for limousines and charter buses with sealed passenger compartments. 

The bill, introduced by Senator Jerry Hill, a Democrat who represents San Mateo and Santa Clara (two counties located upstate), aims to close a loophole inadvertently created by the passage of Senate Bill 65, which aligned California policy surrounding cannabis consumption while driving to existing law prohibiting the act of driving under the influence of alcohol. 

During the hearing, Hill opened his comments by underscoring that: “under current law, cannabis use is allowed in buses, limos, and taxis—without any regulation or consumer safeguards.” 

In its assessment of the bill, the Transportation Committee pointed to several concerns: First, though the measure “makes an effort to protect the driver from potentially becoming intoxicated as a result of the cannabis smoke in the passenger compartment,” in the members’ view,  “it does not go far enough.” 

According to the Committee, the bill “only requires the barrier between the passengers and the driver to effectively limit the passage of smoke” (emphasis added).  Consequently, its members called upon Senator Hill to include amendments requiring a certification from a third party engineer attesting that the barrier and ventilation system “prevents, not limits, the ability for cannabis smoke to enter the driver’s cabin.” 

The Committee also recommended that a future iteration of the bill prohibit the barrier between passengers and drivers to be opened. Senator Hill was also told to consider removing the requirement that a second employee be present in the back of the vehicle, and instead force clients and drivers to communicate via audio or video. “Otherwise,” wrote the Committee, “the state is essentially requiring an employee to become intoxicated as the passengers smoke cannabis in the back.”

Moreover, the Committee noted that, in its current form, the bill does not address cannabis products that are consumed in ways beyond smoking or vaping. Moving forward, the members recommended that Senator Hill further amend the bill to prohibit the use of cannabis on a charter party carrier if individuals under the age of 21 are present, regardless of how it is consumed. 

Representing the California Narcotic Officers’ Association, John Lovell emphasized that the organization only removed its opposition to an earlier version of the bill after Senator Hill addressed its latest batch of concerns. Lovell also added that the Association is in strong support of the Committee’s recommendations. 

Hill pledged to address all of the Committee’s concerns during summer recess. Ultimately, eight of its fifteen members voted in favor of letting the bill move forward to the Appropriations Committee. Three members voted against it, and the rest were not present.

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