Pubdate: Tue, 11 Mar 2003
Source: Expositor, The (CN ON)
Contact:  2002 The Brantford Expositor
Author: Vincent Ball, brantford


Motorists Who Drink And Drive Face Stiff Fines If Caught By Police But What 
About Those Who Toke And Drive?

That's the question being asked by the Brant/Brantford drinking and driving 
countermeasures committee these days.

As pressure mounts to decriminalize possession of small amounts of 
marijuana, committee members are pressing the federal government to 
introduce measures to protect people who may be hurt by those who smoke up 
and drive.

"We want to make sure the rights of victims are protected in court," said 
Lawrie Palk, the committee's co-chairman. "Right now, there is a legal 
limit for alcohol and police have a way of measuring how much a driver has had.

"But not with marijuana."

At present, there is no device that can measure marijuana impairment. Nor 
is there any legal limit or set standard to help police and the courts 
determine what constitutes impairment by use of marijuana.

That's something the local committee would like changed.

The committee is calling for the development of a device that can measure 
marijuana impairment and a legal limit to help guide police and the courts.

"Right now, cases get thrown out of court because there's no way to prove 
someone's ability to drive was impaired by marijuana," Palk said. "There 
are some tests but they're cumbersome and unreliable.

"What we need is legislation for marijuana impairment that mirror the laws 
about drinking and driving."

A survivor of an impaired driver in 1988, Palk has mild but permanent brain 
damage. He has become an advocate for safer roads and the elimination of 
impaired driving.

The accident had a major impact on his life and he doesn't want anyone else 
to suffer the way he has over the years.

He has sent letters to federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon, Ontario 
Premier Ernie Eves and others seeking their support for legislation 
covering driving while impaired by marijuana.

"The matter of marijuana decriminalization is a life and death issue and 
victims' issue," Palk said. "Imagine yourself or a family member who is 
travelling on the roads one day and he or she is hit by a 
marijuana-impaired driver.

"The case goes to court in 2003 and the judge is unable to offer any 
consolation to a victim because the facts are that levels of what is 
impairment under marijuana are not measurable and, what is more, there is 
no device that is able to measure true impairment under law."

Alcohol impairment can be measured and the legal limit for motorists is 
Ontario is 80 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.

People also have to realize that decriminalizing marijuana doesn't mean 
"open season" for pot smokers, Palk said.

"They seem to be moving towards decriminalizing marijuana under 30 grams 
and what it means is that when people get caught with it they will get a 
fine," he said. "It will be like a parking ticket and they won't get a 
criminal record."

But Robin Ellins, of the Cannabis Culture Shop/Friendly Stranger in 
Toronto, said there is no proof that marijuana consumption impairs 
someone's judgment.

"There's a big difference between cannabis and alcohol when it comes to 
driving," Ellins said. "(It) may change the way you think about things but 
it doesn't impair your ability to drive.

"Once you cross the line with alcohol, you're inebriated and your judgment 
is impaired."

Cannabis Connection, in downtown Toronto, is dedicated to the 
decriminalization of marijuana/hemp and bills itself as a centre for the 
dissemination of cannabis information and retail products.

Instead of focusing on the substance, law enforcement officials need a test 
to determine if someone is capable of operating a motor vehicle or not 

Problems on the highways are caused by someone who has mixed substances 
such as prescription drugs and alcohol or marijuana and alcohol, not 
someone who has consumed marijuana, XXXXX said.

Most consumers of cannabis don't mix substances, he said.

While marijuana amplifies the negative effects of alcohol, it is still 
alcohol, not cannabis, that's causing the problems, he added.

But Richard Garlick, of the Canadian Centre for Substance Abuse, believes 
more work needs to be done concerning marijuana use and driving.

It has been shown through experiments that marijuana consumption does 
impair judgment. However, the impairment is mild compared to alcohol, 
Garlick said.

But in terms of real-life situations, it is difficult to determine how much 
it has impaired someone's judgment.

"We just don't know enough about how it (marijuana consumption) impairs 
judgment and I think more work has to be done in that area."

Tests used to determine if someone has used cannabis can only detect if it 
has been used, not when it was used, because the active ingredient of 
marijuana can stay in the body for days and weeks.

Someone who uses cannabis becomes cautious and will drive slowly whereas 
someone impaired by alcohol becomes reckless and drives faster, Garlick said.

Police in other countries have started to use the Drug Recognition Expert 
System to determine if a motorist is stoned on drugs. It's a very 
sophisticated system in which a police officer looks for physical signs and 
clues of drug use.

The first training session using the program has recently been completed in 
Canada and that may be the way of the future, he said.

Of greater concern at present, said Garlick, is the impact of the 
consumption of marijuana in combination with drinking alcohol, especially 
among young people.

A young person experimenting with alcohol for the first time may use it in 
combination with marijuana with disastrous results if he or she gets behind 
the wheel of a car, he said.

Many young people, he believes, have received the ?don't drink and drive' 
message loud and clear. So instead of drinking, they use marijuana.
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