Pubdate: Mon, 07 Dec 2015
Source: Advertiser (CN NF)
Copyright: 2015 Advertiser
Author: Russell Wangersky
Page: A4


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

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 that 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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