Rolling Stoned

Pot legalization and the future of impaired driving legislation

By Olivia Levesque, Staff Writer

Driving while stoned. Alejandro Forero Cuervo/ Flickr

Driving while stoned. Alejandro Forero Cuervo/ Flickr

There have been a lot of serious discussions regarding the legalization of marijuana in Canada in the last year. Since elected, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is mandated to begin the process of legalizing cannabis in Canada. Although it’s hard to predict what exactly this process will involve, and what a system of legalized marijuana will look like in Canada, Trudeau has stated that Canada may look towards the Colorado model, as the state legalized in 2012.

In the Liberal party’s platform, their stance on the legalization of marijuana consists of a few main points. The goal of the Liberals is to ensure that marijuana is kept out of the hands of youth, and the profits kept out of the hands of criminals. Marijuana consumption and incidental possession is to be removed from the Criminal Code, and new, stronger laws to punish more severely those who provide it to minors, those who operate a motor vehicle while under its influence, and those who sell it outside of the new regulatory framework will be in place.

With these points being clear and concise in the Liberal party’s platform, some feel a bit hazier when it comes to the current legislation of impaired driving, and what new legislation will look like when the legalization of marijuana happens.

It has been argued that driving under the influence of marijuana isn’t as bad as driving while under the influence of alcohol, however, studies show that smoking weed can affect spatial perception. Drivers who are stoned tend to have slower reaction times and can swerve or  veer off the road more often, making them a much higher risk for collisions. It is estimated that Canadian teenaged drivers are twice as likely to drive after smoking marijuana as they are after drinking.

In Colorado, before the commercial sale of recreational marijuana was legalized, the state passed new laws making driving under the influence of pot illegal. The law states that any driver found with more than five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood could be charged with a DUI.

Currently there is no legal limit specified for any drug other than alcohol in the Canadian Criminal Code. In 2008, the Code was amended to authorize police to demand field sobriety testing, like in Colorado. If law enforcement has reason to suspect drug use, they are to establish procedures for gathering evidence of drug use. Most police officers are have been trained to recognize the effects of seven families of drugs (including marijuana) and how to order blood or urine tests.

The struggle with legalization of pot and driving laws is that there is no current accurate test for measuring drug impairment. So far, there’s no “pot breathalyzer” device that police can use to measure the amount a suspected impaired driver has consumed to determine level of impairment. For now, officers need to order a blood test, the results of which can be very controversial.