Pubdate: Wed, 09 Dec 2015
Source: Pilot, The (CN NF)
Copyright: 2015 Transcontinental Media
Author: Russell Wangersky
Page: A6


In British Columbia recently, 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 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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