Pubdate: Thu, 30 Jan 2003
Source: Bancroft Times, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2003 The Bancroft Times Ltd.
Note: Title by Mapinc editor


The case that began with a relatively routine police traffic stop near
Killaloe has put the spotlight on an issue which could affect all Canadians.

On February 11, 2002, Killaloe OPP pulled over Rick Reimer of Madawaska
Valley Township after the vehicle he was driving was seen swerving over the
centre line three times. Reimer was smoking marijuana at the time, and was
charged with impaired driving.

Reimer, a retired lawyer, has multiple sclerosis, and has a federal
exemption allowing him to smoke the drug for medicinal use - but not while
driving. Times readers may remember him from the demonstration he and fellow
medicinal marijuana certificate holder Robert Brown of Round Lake Centre
staged at the Bancroft OPP detachment in December 2000.

At the time, OPP Staff Sergeant Ray Westgarth noted the law prohibits use of
marijuana while operating motor vehicles, regardless of whether or not the
driver has a medical exemption.

But earlier this month, Reimer defended himself in what could become a
precedent-setting case. He said he smokes up to 12 to 15 joints a day to
control his MS pain, but is not impaired by it because he's a regular user.

The Canadian government has allowed some citizens to smoke marijuana for
medicinal purposes, and is now in the process of growing its own plants for
the same reason. There are countless sufferers of countless conditions who
say marijuana provides relief from their varied symptoms. Some studies also
support their claims, so the government's actions seem to be steps in the
right direction.

The problem is that while the Criminal Code of Canada has sections that
prohibit people from driving while smoking the drug, there is no hard data
to show just how much it impairs one's abilities - if it impairs them at
all. To go one step further, there's no roadside impairment test for
marijuana, unlike that for alcohol.

Was Reimer impaired? Who knows? He says he wasn't, but surely everyone who
makes a similar claim in that situation will not receive the same sentence -
nor should they.

Put simply, Reimer offered little in the way of evidence to support his
claim, and the prosecution had few means to disprove it. A toxicologist
testified marijuana does impair driving ability, but Canada lacks an
approved method to prove impairment.

It should be noted, though, that even Reimer has noted he's not saying
marijuana can't impair others, just that it doesn't impair him.

And amid all the easy jokes about being one toke over the line - this case,
the yellow line on Highway 58 - there's a critical issue, one that could
affect the safety of the general public.

With the medicinal use of marijuana and related issues becoming hotter
topics by the minute in Canada, there's an obvious and very important need
for more study into its effects on users.

If the government is to move ahead with its marijuana legislation, it must
take immediate steps to prepare for the legal implications.
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MAP posted-by: Josh