Drug driving is the most controversial topic facing the legalization of Cannabis in Canada today. Driving high is illegal here in Canada and will remain so, as is the consumption of Cannabis in vehicles. There is much debate about if it is even possible to measure intoxication for Cannabis and exactly what testing method is the most appropriate.
Advocates overwhelmingly agree that there is no scientific way to measure the level of intoxication of each consumer. Because everyone’s tolerance level is different depending on factors such as consumption experience and even physical conditions. Furthermore, there are many ways people can be considered intoxicated while driving, like those who take prescription drugs or those who are sleep deprived. No standard testing currently exists for many of these factors.
Law enforcement personnel are being trained to detect drug-impaired driving. However, the methods being used currently include the Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST), which is administered roadside. The other method is to use the Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). This test examines a suspect’s vital signs, eyes, balance and ability to concentrate. The officer will render an opinion, based on these results, often leading to false and inconsistent arrests.
At a recent event held at the University of Calgary, which discussed this topic, I spoke with a representative of our local law enforcement. When asked about the process, the officer explained that only if a person fails both the Standard Field Sobriety Testing and the Drug Recognition Expert screening that a saliva test would be administered. When asked about exceptions for medical users, the officer explained that on-duty officers would have to use their ‘best judgement’ and that this isn’t a targeting program to prosecute patients. Some medical patients have stopped bringing their product in the vehicle altogether, despite having this right, to avoid the risk of being tested.
The officer also shared that there is only a handful of local police who are fully trained to handle Cannabis infractions at this time, explaining that the remaining officers would have to rely on basic training and personal experience. The punishment for impaired driving with THC levels of 2 ng (nanograms) but less than 5 ng per ml (millilitre) of blood is a maximum fine of $1000. With THC levels of 5 ng or more, it is a mandatory $1000 fine for the first offence, the second offence is a minimum of 30 days imprisonment and the third is a minimum of 120 days imprisonment.
It is interesting that more resources are going into policing legalization than were used during prohibition. The laws are strict and, in some cases, not reasonable. Law experts feel there will be many court cases because of the inferior regulations and that real precedence needs to be set. There is very little confidence within the Cannabis community that authorities will use common sense and that the rate for arrests will not increase. It is important to keep the public safe, but it must be a fair and responsible solution.
Always practice safe and responsible consumption, never drive high.