Pubdate: Fri, 28 Jul 2006
Source: Burnaby Newsleader (CN BC)
Copyright: 2006 Burnaby Newsleader
Author: Monique Tamminga
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Canada)
Bookmark: (Marijuana and Driving)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)


Those who choose to get high and drive may no longer be getting a free
ride in Canada.

The federal Conservatives are looking at ways to combat drug-impaired
driving through stronger enforcement legislation that can lead to

"Department of Justice lawyers are working on legislation which will
help police deal with drug-impaired drivers," said Langley MP Mark
Warawa on Wednesday.

He made the announcement at a press conference organized by Langley
RCMP on the issue of teens' lax attitudes toward smoking pot and
getting behind the wheel of a car. Politicians, police and youth
counsellors joined forces to say this is a problem that should be
taken seriously.

Langley resident Helen Featherston knows all too well about the
dangers of driving high. In April 2002, she lost her 16-year-old son
Simon in a horrific single-vehicle car crash. Court testimony
indicated the driver was under the influence of marijuana.

The crash also killed another boy, Dayton Unger.

"I would hope that my son's death would prevent someone else's death,"
said Featherston at the press conference. "We are devastated. He was
our only child, we were very close."

Simon didn't know the driver of the Mustang. "Parents can't be
apathetic, if you want to save your child, get in their face about
things," she said.

The driver, 16 at the time, was the first person in B.C. to be charged
with drug-impaired driving. Because of a technicality, the charge was

Police are hoping the federal legislation will allow for mandatory
bodily fluid samples from suspected drug impaired drivers.

"Give us the legislation piece that is missing. At roadside checks if
we suspect someone of drug impaired driving we [want the person] to
submit a bodily fluid sample," said drug recognition expert and RCMP
drug awareness co-ordinator Cpl. Beth Blackburn.

At roadside checks, she's seen an increase in teens driving while
high, many of whom believe it's safe to do.

Warawa worries that mandatory drug-testing wouldn't get past a Charter
challenge. Through current provincial legislation, police can't demand
a blood or urine sample for drugs but can for alcohol. They can
impound a person's car or suspend a driver's licence if they suspect
the driver of being impaired by drugs.

He's hoping the new legislation will give police more enforcement
powers as well as increase the ability to prosecute under the Criminal

Also in attendance was B.C. Solicitor General John Les, B.C. Coroner's
Service's Vince Stancato, Langley school district representatives, and
Langley's police chief Supt. Janice Armstrong.

All had the same message: Society's lax attitude towards marijuana use
is having a dangerous impact on teens.

"Thankfully, over the past 40 years there has been a societal shift in
terms of people's tolerance of drinking and driving. That casual
attitude is gone," said Les at the press conference. "That same ethic
has to apply to drug abuse and driving."

In April, 29 teens from Langley high schools were arrested near the
school grounds for smoking pot.

"The students smoked up during the break and were going to go back to
class," said Langley police spokesperson Cpl. Diane Blain.

Of the teens arrested, 28 were referred to Langley Youth and Family
Services, while one was charged with drug trafficking.

"The pervasive belief amongst those teens is [pot] is legal and
harmless," said LYFS's Jim Smith. "Getting caught may change their
behaviour but not their attitude. It's acceptable to them and we need
to shift that perception."

Smith said adults must take some of the blame for supporting 'the
myths' put out their about pot.

Not many teens realize that Bill C-17, which would have legalized
possession of small quantities of pot,was defeated, said Warawa.

"Many youth think simple possession is legal. It's not," he

Details of the legislation are expected this fall.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake