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How will Canadian police officers enforce impaired driving under the influence of cannabis

Published Mar 17, 2019 11:10 a.m. ET
Canadian Press, Darryl Dyck

Now that marijuana use is legal for both medical and recreational use the Canadian government has been in consultations with world-renowned experts and police to come up with a strategic plan of action to combat the potential of increased impaired drivers hitting the roads. The belief is that choosing to consume cannabis before driving is different than alcohol. Many Canadians are wondering how effective they will be at keeping impaired drivers off of the roads.

THC Effects

The effects of driving while under the influence of marijuana are dangerous and unpredictable. With cannabis affecting everyone differently, there is some difficulty in ascertaining what sort of legal limits should be enforced. The effects of THC can include euphoria, confusion, loss of motor function, and an impairment in a person's reaction time. So far the provided recommendations from MADD Canada are not to ingest marijuana any less than 24 hours before you want to drive, which for many would be nearly impossible to commit to.

Rules for impaired driving

The laws currently restricting driving while under the influence of cannabis are similar to those of alcohol with one slight difference. When a person is charged with impaired driving while under the influence of alcohol the driver must be beyond the legal limit of alcohol which is tested using a breathalyzer. Now there is a marijuana testing device aka a THC breathalyzer currently under construction, but for now, Canadian police officers will not yet have access to these devices. So what will they use instead? To decide whether an individual is under the influence of cannabis a police officer may or may not use one of the following screening tools.

Marijuana roadside drug test

If a police officer believes that an individual may be driving while under the influence of cannabis than they may request a marijuana roadside drug test. This would involve a sample of saliva that is swabbed from the suspect'scheek and then taken to be tested for THC. Since this test doesn’t give instant results, it will most frequently be used when a person is suspected of committing an offense, and the investigating officer has some substantial evidence to show that.

Bloodtest

Now for those like me who are needle phobic, there is no cause for concern, as long as you aren’t doing anything illegal while behind the wheel. Officers of the law have the right to demand a drug test in instances where accidents occur and are believed to be due to the individual being under the influence of cannabis. Blood testing can take 2-8 weeks for the results to come back to will not be administered roadside and will only be used in the most necessary of situations.

Urine test

A police officer may also request a urine sample if they believe a person has been driving under the influence. These tests will not be administered roadside. Most would take place either at the hospital or your family doctor under a court order. This is not expected to be a commonly used tool and is only to be used when a specific situation generally involving another crime calls for it.

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Drug Recognition Expert

A DRE or Drug Recognition Expert is another tool available to law enforcement. An expert will only be involved if there are multiple criminal infractions or a severe allegation of crime. On occasion, they may also be used at certain traffic checkpoints and during ride programs. They are individuals that are trained to evaluate an individual's state of impairment. A DRE will use psychological evaluation alongside either blood or urine testing.

Marijuana testing device

While technically this one will not be in effect for a while yet, with its earliest release date set for the beginning of 2019, there is currently a team of specialists working on a THC breathalyzer. The release of this device will not happen until it shows a consistent accuracy that is in line with alcohol breathalyzers.

Cannabis driving test for ability (AKA standard field sobriety test)

A slightly tweaked standard field sobriety test has been provided to police officers as a tool to gauge the impairment level of an individual that is in the operation of a motor vehicle. This test involves a movement section that can help to test motor functioning, questions to ask the driver (such as 5+5=), and other methods of testing that are less invasive, but still relatively effective and easily administered at roadside.

Consequences of impaired driving under the influence of cannabis

If a person is caught operating a motor vehicle while under the influence marijuana they could potentially face any one of the following consequences: fines ranging from $1000 to $10 000, a possible deduction of demerit points, a license suspension, and jail time that can range anywhere from 30 days to 10 years in prison. The punishment will be affected by any prior drug-related charges a driver may already have as well as the severity of the offence iteself.

Enforcement effectiveness

Just how effective these methods will be at keeping any impaired drivers off the roads is still up for debate. Since the majority of tools that are at an officers disposal do not allow an officer to be sure without a doubt that a user is intoxicated, it is highly unlikely that any of these tools will mean much to the average person who smokes weed on a regular basis and goes about their day. The only people that will be heavilyaffected by the change will be those who find themselves in an accident with someone trying to find fault. However, that is expected to change once the official release of a THC breathalyzer is available and distributed for use. In the meantime, there isn't likely to be much of a change on the horizon in the enforcement of Canada’s impaired driving laws unless a person is doing something truly nefarious to begin with.  

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