Pubdate: Fri, 02 Oct 2015
Source: North Shore News (CN BC)
Copyright: 2015 North Shore News
Author: Brendan McAleer


There's plenty of speculation about our upcoming federal election,
much of it frankly negative.

Politics is tough, especially when you weigh up the leaders and
realize that finding someone who reflects all your values is almost

When the haranguing and arguing gets me down, I simply flip on a U.S.
news channel, and take a good look at what our friends to the south
are dealing with. It's like they're trying to elect a new village
idiot, with a surfeit of contenders - by comparison, the Canadian
election is a Care Bear Countdown.

Anyway, one of the policies that's been in the news of late is the
Green Party's idea that marijuana should be legalized and taxed. Here
in British Columbia, cannabis exists in a weird hemi-demi-semi de
facto legal state already, with the number of pot dispensaries
starting to rival the number of Starbucks. Judging from the spread of
these places, approximately 97 per cent of the province has, like,
glaucoma, man.

According to the Green Party, legalizing and taxing Snoop Dogg's
favourite nightcap would inject some five billion dollars annually
into the economy, and would also free up some revenue spent
investigating and prosecuting the illegal trade in marijuana. There'd
also be a theoretical decline in gang activity and the crimes
associated with it - without the funds generated by illegal
bootlegging, criminals would have to turn to other activities. Maybe
they could smuggle Kinder Eggs into the U.S. or something. It all
sounds like a panacea for a sticky-icky issue, a modern-day version of
the repeal of prohibition. Marijuana has a number of benefits for
pain-management, and with some kind of taxation structure and
regulation, consumers would have some idea of what they're getting.
I've never smoked reefer in my life (no, not even that time I
suggested traffic safety could be improved if we all started ramming
rude people in traffic). No further proof is needed than the fact that
I! just referred to marijuana as reefer.

I have, however, just watched part of Cheech and Chong's 1978 movie Up
In Smoke, and am therefore fully qualified to weigh in on the issue.
And what I want to know is, what do we do when people start getting
high and driving?

Of course, this already happens, and it probably happens more than
we'd like to know. According to the Internet - which contains facts,
and only facts - THC affects users in multiple ways depending on their
habitual usage and constitution.

If you're out for a night on the town at a bar, the rule of thumb is
that you're going to have to at least sleep it off. If you've just
been over at a friend's house in the afternoon, listening to Pink
Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, you might figure a couple of hours
downtime will clear your system and you're good to drive. It might be,
and it might not be.

According to a recent survey in the U.S., most Americans feel that
driving while stoned isn't a big deal, or at least it's a much less
big deal than drunk driving. The evidence gets a big tricky to judge,
but the gut feeling is mostly borne out by the results. Alcohol is a
major factor in crashes, particularly fatal ones, whereas ingestion of
cannabis seems to be such a small factor it's hard to draw a conclusion.

However, testing has proven that everything you need to be a good
driver suffers when you're under the influence: cognitive function,
motor control, tracking, and decision making. People get dumb when
they're stoned, they make bad decisions, and they weave in their lane.
It would appear that marijuana's high tends to slow you down, where
drunk drivers take stupid risks, but you're still far from completely
in control.

So, drive sober, which of course you would do anyway. However, while
there are systems for the police to use in screening for alcohol
intoxicated drivers, there's not a similarly quick test for marijuana
in the system. There's no breathalyzer for pot.

This presents a problem for the officer on the scene. Even if a driver
is suspected of being impaired, by the time they're back at the
station, undergoing testing, the THC concentrations may be
significantly lower. Just as with alcohol, a field-sobriety measure is
needed. And one exists, sort of. A breathalyzer-like device in the
research and development stage can detect recent smoking of marijuana
(within one or two hours), and has shown some reasonable accuracy.
While it's not much use several hours later, it's at least a tool in

Enforcement aside, driving behaviours will be more affected by the
public's opinion on the issue, and information provided. We are still,
after all, dealing with people who drive drunk and don't get caught.
If people's attitudes towards marijuana use and driving remain lax,
then even stepped-up enforcement won't help. Research is needed to
show exactly how dangerous it is, and how users might consume the
stuff and be safe by deferring driving for an appropriate level of

With several U.S. states effectively legalizing marijuana, it's
possible for Canada's policy and law enforcement types to see how
they've gone about solving the practical problems. And let's be
honest, if marijuana was legalized tomorrow, we all might have a
better understanding of why the Pontiac Aztek exists.
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