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Legalization Series: Public Safety

The subject of public safety is complex and is at the forefront of Cannabis legalization.  There are many factors to consider including the safety of children and youth, safety on road and in the workplace.  These aspects are important priorities of the Canadian government and regulators are working on finding appropriate solutions.

The first point of Alberta’s framework for legalization is to keep Cannabis out of the hands of children and youth.  This is being addressed with minimum age requirements for possession and by restricting access to dispensaries for those under age.  Advertising regulations also exist requiring child-proof, plain packaging to deter children and to limit access.

One risk which still needs to be addressed is that children are unintentionally ingesting Cannabis infused edibles as these products are often mistaken for candy and chocolate.  Colorado recently addressed this by introducing rules limiting the shapes of the products, adding a universal THC symbol to each 10-milligram standard serving and requiring clear potency levels to be displayed on the packaging.  Early adoption of edible regulations could prove beneficial for both the industry and for the public.

The second point of Alberta’s framework is to protect safety on roads, in workplaces and in public spaces.  The topic of road safety and workplace safety are controversial and are still being debated.  However, the concern about public safety is more straightforward.  Recreational consumption has been restricted in most public places, with some municipalities only allowing consumption in private residences.

Road safety is still being discussed with more legislation being proposed in Bill C-46 later this year.  Driving high is illegal and will remain so, as is the consumption of Cannabis in vehicles.  It is not recommended to drive within two hours of inhaling Cannabis and five hours after ingesting.  The Government of Canada states that driving under the influence of Cannabis can impair your judgement, can affect your ability to react and like alcohol, Cannabis could increase your chance of being in a crash.

The Canadian Drug Policy Coalition states that frequent Cannabis users are more inclined to drive after consumption.  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.

Law enforcement personnel are 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 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 leads to false and inconsistent arrests.

The most reliable test, currently, for detecting THC levels is the saliva method.  However, this test only detects the presence of a drug and does not always relate directly to the impairment of an individual.  Determining an individual’s impairment is controversial and is an ongoing debate in the industry.

Workplace drug testing includes testing for the presence of Cannabis (cannabinoids), opioids, amphetamine or methamphetamine, cocaine and PCP.  Being high at the workplace could be treated similarly to alcohol, it is at each employer’s discretion to implement drug testing to address recreational use.

The standard urine test, depending on your usage, will detect the by-products of THC for up to 30 days or more making the results not relative to impairment.  This is because THC is fat-soluble and remains in the body’s fat for as long as possible.  Saliva tests detect drug use within 24 hours, making the results more accurate.  Currently, Cannabis is being tested at 50 ng per ml, compared to other drugs like PCP at 25 ng and cocaine at 150 ng.

There has been an ongoing discussion about the legitimacy of drug testing for Cannabis and this issue will require risk-mitigating and thoughtful legislation to set a reliable industry standard.

References:  Lift News, Openparliament.ca, Driving.caCanadian Drug Policy CoalitionAlberta.ca, Albert Health Services, Government of Canada, Department of JusticeThe Cannabist, Huffington Post, Parliment of Canada, Openparliament.ca, Ottawa SunVancouver Sun, CBC, CanniMed, RCMPThe Globe and Mail Inc, Global News, High Times, Sure Hire, CBC TV and Marijuanabreak.com.

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