Pubdate: Sat, 02 Feb 2008
Source: Winnipeg Free Press (CN MB)
Copyright: 2008 Winnipeg Free Press
Bookmark: (Cannabis and Driving)


It is only natural that as attitudes towards marijuana loosen up, that
police see more tokers behind the wheel. But unlike the jurisprudence
on drunk driving, the law and science around drugs and impairment is
not well developed. Proposed new powers to help police get drug users
off the road, therefore, will produce minimal progress in keeping the
streets safe.

Parliament is stepping into the final stages of debating a law to
allow police to demand a blood, saliva or urine test of a driver they
suspect is impaired by drugs. Until now, police could stop and demand
that a driver take a field sobriety test (touch your nose, count
backwards, walk in a straight line and turn) on suspicion he is
impaired, but there was no test to prove drug consumption. A
breathalyzer detects the presence of alcohol, only. Under the law now
going to the Senate, refusing to take a test for drugs would be a
criminal offence, as is refusing a breathalyzer.

But where alcohol has been proven to be toxic to driving, good science
around the impact of drugs on driving can spin a judge's head. The
same drug can affect different drivers in vastly different ways. A
newbie with a reefer might be dangerous, indeed, behind the wheel; a
veteran smoker can show his driving skills improve with a few puffs. A
breathalyzer draws a line between higher consumption and impairment,
but a blood, saliva or urine test for drugs is unlikely to do that.

An officer's observations and the results of a standard field test
will weigh heavily upon the chances of proving a charge in court. Cold
medicines and anti-anxiety drugs (Valium) may impair a person's
driving, but that is not a certainty. Further, what should an officer
or a judge make of a blood test that indicates a driver has used
heroin, which can restore an addict to normal function?

Youth are less inhibited today about smoking pot, and Canadians are
more inclined to see pot as a drug to regulated, but not criminalized.
In reaction, a number of provinces have introduced penalties based on
field sobriety tests: In Manitoba, failing a road-side sobriety test
when alcohol or drugs are suspected of impairing a driver can result
in the immediate suspension of a driver's licence and impoundment of a

Judges will require the prosecution meet a higher standard to convict
a driver of a criminal offence; the result of a blood or saliva test
proves little beyond drug use.

The new law will hit legal speed bumps and potholes in court, as
judges sort through the science behind and evidentiary basis for
drug-impaired driving charges.

Advertising by governments and interest groups have attached
significant stigma to the practice of drinking and driving.

The better bet may be to spread the warnings of smoking weed, or
taking an allergy pill, and getting behind the wheel.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin