Pubdate: Thu, 10 Jan 2008
Source: Martlet (CN BC Edu)
Copyright: 2008 Martlet Publishing Society
Author: Rosemary Westwood
Bookmark: (Cannabis and 
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Canada)


Police Are Catching More Stoned People Getting Behind The Wheel

As the Counterattack Road Check season winds down, Saanich police 
were surprised by one memorable night that saw the number of drivers 
caught driving while high on marijuana exceed those caught for 
drinking and driving.

On the evening of Dec. 18, five high drivers were handed 24-hour 
driving suspensions. One driver rolled into the road check with a 
joint in hand.

"Amongst pot users there is that belief that of all the drugs, 
smoking marijuana is the least of all evils. The truth of the matter 
is any drug impairs people's judgment and decision-making ability, 
which driving requires," said Saanich police Sgt. John Price. "I 
think we've seen an increase in the number of pot users getting 
24-hour suspensions and, occasionally, impaired driving convictions."

A 2003 Ontario survey also found that drug-impaired driving is on the 
rise, with 20 per cent of high school drivers who were surveyed 
admitting to getting behind the wheel within one hour of using 
marijuana at least once the previous year.

Scott Macdonald, assistant director at the Centre for Addictions 
Research B.C. and professor at UVic's School of Health Information 
Science, found a high proportion of people who drove after using 
marijuana said they tended to slow down and drive more carefully. He 
said marijuana, unlike alcohol or other drugs such as cocaine, tends 
to make users aware of their impairment and causes them to compensate.

"The question is whether they're able to do that or not," he said.

Several countries have undertaken studies to determine what effect 
marijuana has on the likelihood of a person getting into a car crash.

"The well-controlled [studies] have pretty much shown that marijuana 
is a risk factor for crashes," he said. "People are somewhere between 
two and five times more likely to be involved in a crash if they're 
high on marijuana."

But while the rules around being impaired by drugs or alcohol while 
driving are the same, Price and Macdonald agreed it's harder for 
police to detect a particular drug than it is to detect alcohol, 
which can be identified by smell and through a breathalyzer test.

"We don't have anything like the breathalyzer to determine if there's 
active THC in the system," said Macdonald. "You can do blood 
analyses, and that's rather invasive."

Currently, the law prevents police from demanding a person suspected 
of driving while high go to a police station for further 
investigation and testing. As a result, said Price, there are fewer 
impaired driving convictions for drugs compared to alcohol.

But the federal government wants to change that. Introduced in 2004, 
Bill C-16 is waiting for a second reading in the House of Commons. It 
would amend the Criminal Code in an effort to increase police ability 
to convict drug-impaired drivers.

The bill would let police demand that suspected impaired drivers 
submit to Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, which include physical 
tests such as the one-leg stand. Bill C-16 would also allow police to 
demand that drivers submit to an evaluation by a drug recognition 
expert at a police station, as well as provide fluid samples. For 
suspicion of marijuana use, this would mean a blood test because the 
drug remains in the system months after use, making a urine test ineffective.

Bill C-16 would also increase penalties for convictions, with fines 
for a first offence rising from $600 to $1,000. The minimum mandatory 
sentence for a second offence would increase from 14 to 30 days, and 
from 90 to 120 days for a third offence.

Gayle Quin, vice-president of the Cannabis Buyer's Club of Canada, 
said she finds smoking marijuana makes her a more careful driver. But 
she warned that eating marijuana can make a person drowsy, and 
therefore dangerous behind the wheel of a car.

Macdonald said eating cannabis can be more dangerous because it's 
harder to gauge the dosag and the effects are delayed.

"It is a risk factor for crashes - I think the literature is becoming 
more convinced of that," he said. "But at the same time, it's not 
nearly in the same league as alcohol."

But police aren't considering marijuana's relative dangers.

"We're looking for everybody who might have made a poor decision when 
they go behind the wheel of the car," said Price, who added that 
there's a simple solution to staying safe and away from police 
scrutiny: abstinence from drugs and alcohol.

"Surely to God one in your group is willing to abstain one night so 
everyone can get home safely."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom