By on April 17, 2017

[Image: Jeffrey Smith/Flickr]

Canada’s oh-so-green federal government sure isn’t concerned about one form of air pollution — clouds of marijuana smoke. With the country’s cities already infused with the tell-tale odor of wacky tobaccy, legislation has been tabled to make possession of the drug legal, perhaps by as early as July 2018.

Great news for grass aficionados, but a troubling turn of events for road safety advocates. The jury’s out on whether Canada’s law would spark an uptick in drugged driving, but the proposed methods of testing — and convicting — weedy drivers has raised other concerns. One group has a problem with the Great Green North’s strategy to root out baked motorists.

It would seem the Canadian government is entering the wild and woolly world of weed with a reasonable degree of caution.

On the same day as the legalization legislation, the government tabled another bill targeting impaired drivers. The new measures will “better deter and detect drug-impaired driving,” the government claims, and would see motorists hand over two types of bodily fluids for testing during a roadside stop. Like booze, the bill would set legal limits to the amount of THC in a driver’s bloodstream.

While police officers will still be able to use their judgement to detect impairment — and provide opinion evidence in court — the motorist’s blood and saliva will likely seal their legal fate. In some U.S. jurisdictions, plenty of doubt has attached itself to the results of saliva swab tests. A blood test is meant to overcome the inaccuracies present in the first test.

According to the Canadian proposal, “Qualified technicians would be able to take blood samples from a driver without a doctor’s oversight, allowing for testing sooner after a person is pulled over.” This is supposed to increase the accuracy of the test and free up scarce healthcare personnel. However, the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) has voiced its worry over the testing.

The new law “would require a positive blood test within two hours in order to get a conviction,” the association stated in a recent release. “Evidence from U.S. jurisdictions is that it often takes longer than two hours to complete the process, and also requires the presence of a trained technician to take the sample, putting a tough burden on law enforcement and raising questions about how workable the provision will be.”

After several states legalized marijuana, a study showed levels of bloodstream THC didn’t correspond with a driver’s level of impairment. Because of this, the American Automotive Association has advocated for observation-based impairment detection, where trained officers analyze a number of physiological and behavioral indicators.

It sounds like Canuck cops might be given that say, though it’s doubtful that a driver with blood-tested THC levels above the legal maximum would get a pass, regardless of how sharp they were while standing on the roadside. Another concern is the training promised for police forces.

“While the government committed today to making more money available to train police in drug recognition and to acquire testing devices, it didn’t say how much or when it will be available,” CAA stated. It has the same concern about the limited money promised for public information campaigns.

Don’t expect the so-called “Prince of Pot” Marc Emery to make the job of the government (or CAA) any easier. The marijuana activist and high-profile supporter of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who ran on the promise to legalize — just told the media that smoking weed makes you a better driver.

[Image: Jeffrey Smith/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)]

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26 Comments on “Looming Legal Weed Sparks Roadside Worries in Canada...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “After several states legalized marijuana, a study showed levels of bloodstream THC didn’t correspond with a driver’s level of impairment.”

    “The marijuana activist and high-profile supporter of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau — who ran on the promise to legalize — just told the media that smoking weed makes you a better driver.”

    In a world where black is white and white is black, it’s no surprise that legalizing weed has thrown every jurisdiction into chaos. How will the RCMP ever secure a prosecution?

  • avatar

    There has to be a better way to test for pot intoxication than THC, which can show up on a urine test for 30 days after. Some substance that disappears after a few hours like liquor?

    • 0 avatar

      Some sort of objective neuromuscular response test device comes to mind. I used to, (quit over thirty years ago) and still know many people who do get baked off trail in the woods and then go out and ski bumps with no impairment. Seems people equate cannabis and alcohol, and that is like comparing apples and celery.
      Extreme cannabis intoxication may well inflict some impairment as a controlled test I read about a few years back, but most cannabis consumers don’t take it that far. If every drunk driver could be magically turned into a cannabis affected driver, accident rates would clearly decline.

  • avatar

    While Colorado did see an increase in road fatalities, this was not attributed to legal weed but, according to CDOT, not wearing seat belts and distracted driving.

  • avatar

    I live in California and smoke every night. And no, I have never taken the wheel while high. I’m with the AAA, the only way to determine impairment is measuring a motorist’s reactions, but then we get into the thorny underbelly as BAC is a number, but the results of measurement by another person can lead to them getting the result they want.

  • avatar

    Fcuk, at 62 I’m not half the responsive driver I was at 22 with a good bake on.

  • avatar

    Breath machine does not determine impairment. The breath tester is an easy way for the state to convict you. All they need to do is prove you drove and had XX BAL. Done. The reason for this is because if you were able to force them to prove actual impairment, DWI cases would be a lot tougher to make.

    I for one agree with Bill Murray. For the vast majority, the worst thing that can happen with weed is getting caught with it. I’ve navigated quite a few folks through NY and NJ.

    (NOT DRIVING) NY will generally give you a dismissal for a first offense. NJ suspends your license pending drug tests, six months probation (which is drug tests), and about $1500 in various fines and fees. Get caught in NY, or better, go to a legal state. MA will be our market disturber on the northeast-borders NY, CT, VT, NH and Rhode Island….

  • avatar

    Please note that in the U.S., to “table” legislation means to delay it, perhaps indefinitely. The term seems to have the opposite meaning in Canada.

  • avatar

    The UK Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) did objective testing back in the 80s I think – the report was never published and many years later someone leaked it; the results did indeed show that moderate cannabis use made for safer driving, which is probably why it was buried.

    Yes to table something in the rest of the English speaking world means to deal with it now, in the USA it means the reverse.

    • 0 avatar

      I’d have to agree: I’m 34 and have consistently driven stoned since I was 17, learning to drive in NYC, before briefly moving to Chicago and LA for school and work. I’m a defensive driver, but I also drive safely. The plant and its use have yet to have me pulled over for reckless driving nor speeding, nor for an accident. Ever.

  • avatar

    I’ve never done any drugs but I share libertarians’ point of view on the subject (and since everyone seems to praise it so much, I’d like to have freedom of choice to enjoy it when I’m too old and tired for other things). By all accounts it appears that stoners would be no worse than seniors driving Buicks. Obviously, since our prison industrial (and judicial) complex have secured free ride at taxpayers’ expense, it’s unlikely that the Land of Free will ever stand for freedom. Citizens are not to have a choice with exception to “prescription drugs”, alcohol or tobacco stink. The more laws the worse it gets (but for the class enforcing these laws).

  • avatar

    I’m one of those who remembers many scary rides in the 1960’s and 170’s with stoners not all of whom were seriously baked at the time .
    Like drunks, most if not all stoners think they’re immune and should get a pass to do whatever they want .
    I remember a very few pcp users who didn’t get violent too and not a one would accept the plain fact that they were outliers .
    Too many died behind stoned driving to ever make me accept it as an O.K. thing to do .

  • avatar

    This is a very bad thing that is happening in Canada. I dabbled in the stuff as a young person, decided I didn’t like how it made me stupid or how it stank, and stopped. I think it is sad that it is so popular among young people, but whatever. People do stupid things. Instead of just saying it’s OK with conditions, they are going with a full-court-press Big Government solution with all sorts of laws, mechanisms, and punishments. I suspect it will not change much except for creating a bigger policing function and increasing government spending on it.

    • 0 avatar

      I smoked a fair bit when I was younger but it’s not really my cup of tea anymore. I would’ve been considered very underage by the proposed legislation. It’s ridiculously easy to get it around here in Toronto for people of all ages and I suspect it’s the same in all big cities across the continent. It’s use is pretty widely accepted now so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to treat it as an illegal drug with the resulting criminal consequences. Government might as well regulate, control supply and tax it now. Policing it was increasingly a laissez faire thing as cops here cared less and less about people smoking up.

      I think we can look to the Netherlands as a model. People there treat it like alcohol and it’s not really a big issue at all there.

    • 0 avatar

      Why is this bad? Because you don’t like it? Do you drink? Do you like drunken idiots running around? Do you think we should ban alcohol?

    • 0 avatar

      “I didn’t like how it made me stupid”

      I’m sorry to have to be the one to break this news to you, but weed doesn’t quite do that, so you may have to look elsewhere for the root cause of your problem.

      • 0 avatar

        It does change the way you think though, so it could become difficult to understand certain things while high, especially if you’re not a frequent user. I sometimes find myself spending long periods of time trying to understand something while high that I would easily understand while sober, because I start thinking in different directions than I normally would.

        The benefit is that it allows me to see things in a different way. That’s my favorite element of it. I can be brooding about something for hours, but the moment I get high I often see it differently and internally resolve the situation.

        I typically don’t enjoy writing while high. I spend far too much time thinking about words and sentence structure; things that come naturally when sober. Whether I’m stupid or not, I often feel stupid while attempting that.

        But driving a vehicle in a socially acceptable manner on public roads is easy. The primary skill involved is paying attention, and even that is only required occasionally. You need to have yourself absolutely convinced of the potentially disastrous consequences of those moments. Cannabis shouldn’t affect that fundamental belief. So as long as you can stay focused on your surroundings while driving under the influence of cannabis, many of the other effects – calmness, relaxation, and patience – can be beneficial while dealing with traffic.

        • 0 avatar

          I remember driving high only once, thank god. The one thing I recall best was how pretty the colors of the traffic lights looked at intersections. It seemed to me my reaction time was way slower, like everything else. But reality was altered so who knows if it actually was.

          • 0 avatar

            The important thing is that you were fully aware of your level of impairment.

            Even a frequent user could get high enough to be too impaired to drive safely. But he probably wouldn’t want to drive in that state anyway.

            There’s a wide range of tolerances among my close friends. On one end, a guy who won’t drive if he’s had a single hoot. On the other end, a guy who got high during his Bondurant Grand Prix Road Racing course, and drove just as well on track as anybody else out there. Aside from the instructors, of course.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a big change with legalized marijuana and it is a big net positive. Yes the gov’t will need an agencecy to regulate the sales and growth but that should be fully paid for by the taxes and still leave some of that tax money for other purposes. The police will spend much less time busting people. There is a not a big problem with impaired driving and it hasn’t been a problem after legalization in the states where it has been legal for a few years now.

      It will be harder for young people to obtain as it takes a big chunk out of the black market as it takes away the black market profit. The other big thing is that it means that neighborhoods will be safer when there isn’t that grow operation next door. Since legalization I’ve seen so many houses come on the market that had been used as grow operations. Sure some of them are dumps in the “bad” part of town but I’ve found many others in median priced homes in nice neighborhoods. I even found one about 2 blocks from the HS my kids attended. Now it is grown in areas zoned for that with proper security systems not some guy sitting in the house with a gun.

      • 0 avatar

        I think you need to read the legislation proposed. Provinces are going to be taxing it at whatever level they choose. In Canada the tax on cigarettes and alcohol is prohibitively huge, so it seems probable that weed taxes will also be high. That means the black market will continue to thrive, so the stated “protection of youth” is a smokescreen, nothing more. As for the grow op, everyone is allowed to cultivate 4 plants under this proposal, which means small grow-ops could be everywhere, given the mindset among some that if 4 is good, 40 must be better.

  • avatar

    There is a fundamental problem with all testing: it’s just not all that accurate, in many cases, when it comes to determining fitness to operate a motor vehicle.

    This is not an easy problem to solve.

  • avatar

    Pull over a young male in a Grand Am, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll find something.

  • avatar

    My experience, many years ago, was that many ‘stoners’ typically drove pretty poorly whether or not they were high at the time. People who were really baked, would drive excessively carefully and slowly, to the point of being a danger to others as well as being very obviously impaired.

    People who functioned at a moderate level of high-ness, the average person would not be able to tell a difference.

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