Pubdate: Sat, 05 Dec 2015
Source: Journal-Pioneer, The (CN PI)
Copyright: 2015 Journal-Pioneer
Author: Russell Wangersky
Page: A6


Lots for Governments to Ponder on the Road to Marijuana Legalization

In British Columbia this past week, the provincial government was 
told liquor store employees wanted to be the ones to sell legalized 
marijuana, should that legalization occur. (It was a federal Liberal 
election promise.) Their argument? "We believe this is an incredible 
opportunity for British Columbia," Stephanie Smith, president of the 
B.C. Government and Service Employees' Union, said at a press 
conference. "We have an excellent track record for distributing and 
retailing alcohol." That track record, they argue, includes the 
responsible sale of alcohol. Interesting point. But despite all that 
responsibility at the point of sale, as a nation, we don't always do 
so well with personal responsibility. Right across the country, 
provincial courts strain to deal with drinking and driving cases - 
and that's despite the fact the courts are only dealing with those 
who don't plead guilty quickly. Police news releases across the 
country are equally filled with drunk-driving charges.! There seem to 
be plenty of people committing an offence that we are all supposed to 
realize is both stupid, criminal and potentially fatal.

As I've written before, scores of people successfully fight their 
drunk-driving charges on technicalities - they weren't given the 
tests quickly enough, they weren't given the maintenance records of 
Alert devices for their defence, they were too drunk to understand 
their ability to speak with a lawyer, police officers didn't have 
enough cause to pull them over - even when an empirical device like a 
breathalyzer has shown them to be grossly impaired. So, what's going 
to happen when there's no such device for legally impaired marijuana users?

Right now, police forces use drug recognition experts who look for a 
series of indexes to establish whether drivers are impaired by drugs. 
Problem is, unlike the breathalyzer, there's a fair bit of 
subjectivity in their analysis; it is observational, and while it can 
lead an expert to believe someone is impaired, it doesn't identify 
the amount or type of impairment. It seems to me that leaves a fairly 
large grey area for skilled defence lawyers to exploit. You can test 
for marijuana use in drivers using a blood test - but it's involved, 
requires a trip to the hospital, and is therefore rarely done. The 
Supreme Court of Canada already maintains that merely taking a breath 
sample constitutes an invasion of personal liberties - it's hard to 
imagine they'd agree to more invasive sampling procedure that would 
involve something like a roadside blood sample. There are options 
being developed to test saliva for drug traces, but they aren't in 
place yet either. It's all something tha! t governments might want to 
ponder on the road to marijuana legalization - not whether to 
legalize or not, but what offshoots have to be addressed to protect 
everyone else from those who don't act responsibly with their new legal high.

This is not to say there aren't already drug-impaired drivers on the 
road. There clearly are, and occasionally - far less often than drunk 
drivers - they get caught. What's going to serve as the equivalent to 
the breathalyzer in the marijuana-legalized world?

If endless technicalities can get breathalyzer results tossed from 
courts, how much more easily will a drug recognition expert's 
findings be tossed out? And what does that mean for the safety of the 
other drivers on the road?
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