Pubdate: Mon, 04 Jan 2016
Source: Daily Press, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Sun Media
Author: Len Gillis
Page: A1


With the possibility of liberalized marijuana laws being passed in 
Canada in this year, there is also a concern about how that will play 
out in terms of impaired driving caused by drugs.

Steve Meunier, the president of the Timmins chapter of MADD Canada 
(Mother's Against Drunk Driving), said the concern is a valid one.

"MADD is obviously concerned about this at a corporate level, and 
that focuses down to the chapters as well, and of course we are all 
concerned," said Meunier.

"Unfortunately people still make the conscious decision to get behind 
the wheel when they're impaired by alcohol. And people impaired by 
drug is becoming more and more commonplace," he added.

And while there are checks in place to catch and prosecute drinking 
drivers, Meunier said it doesn't mean that drug users would be 
getting a free ride. He said the Criminal Code of Canada outlines 
that impaired driving can occur because of alcohol or because of a 
drug. This can include marijuana, he said.

Meunier, who is also an OPP Sergeant, said he has a police officer on 
his platoon who is a certified drug recognition expert, whose job is 
to apply testing to drivers suspected of being impaired by drugs.

"They're trained at an expert level in the United States and they 
bring this training back and they apply it in Canada," he said. "We 
find more and more people are impaired by drugs. I guess that's the 
bottom line. It seems to be a trend."

Meunier did not get into any ethical or moral discussion about 
marijuana but he said the concern is that it would be adding another 
possible scenario to the situation where more drivers are on the road 
who are under the influence of a drug that can impair their judgement 
and physical reflexes.

"So you know legalizing marijuana, or liberalizing the rules around 
that, would be a definite concern. It would be a concern both for me 
as a police officer and as a representative of MADD," he said.

Meunier said most drivers are aware of the dangers, and the 
penalties, of drinking and driving. He said what he fears is that 
people will think it is okay to use drugs because they won't get 
caught if they're driving.

"They might think the police won't find out. Well, they will. There 
are accepted methods and tests that are applied to individuals who 
are suspected of driving after having used narcotics. They're 
accepted by the courts and these people end up being convicted," said Meunier.

He said it would be reasonable to expect that if people are given the 
right to have marijuana, then those people would have to accept the 
responsibility of not driving within a certain time period.

"I would expect that if they're going to legalize marijuana, I mean 
it would be no different than alcohol, there would have to be 
accepted level where you are not considered to be impaired by the 
drug. I don't think they've gotten that far yet," Meunier remarked.

While there is a roadside breath test that can be applied for people 
who have had too much to drink, Meunier conceded there is no such 
machine on the market yet for marijuana.

There is however, a procedure in place for drivers who are seen to 
drive erratically, they're seen to be not fully coherent and yet they 
have no indications of alcohol. That's when the police can use their 
expert officers.

"The drug recognition expert, the officer who is trained to that 
level, will administer a series of tests to the driver," said 
Meunier. If the person is found to respond poorly, the driver can be 
brought back to the police detachment.

"The drug recognition expert can demand a urine sample, which would 
later be sent to the Centre for Forensic Sciences for analysis," he explained.

"That is now accepted by the courts as evidence of impairment by drug."

"Now if the individual decides they're not going to provide a sample, 
then it is no different than if they fail to provide a sample of 
their breath into a breathalzyer. They will be charged for refusal," 
Meunier continued. "When you refuse, well that's a criminal offence 
all on its own," he said.

Meunier said there are many cases where a motorist is pulled over for 
displaying poor driving habits. he said in his time as a police 
officer he has seen cases where drivers are just too tired. But in 
other cases, said Meunier, its obvious that driver fatigue is not the issue.

"if you go to the person and you can't detect any alcohol whatsoever, 
then it is not unreasonable to think maybe this person is impaired by 
drug," he said.

"officers are trained to the level to know, you know there's 
something not right here. There's something wrong with this person 
operating this motor vehicle. They're displaying all the signs, minus 
the smell of the alcoholic beverage. so it is reasonable to suspect 
this person may be impaired, possibly by drug," said Meunier.

he said it is all the same to the Madd organization, which wants to 
keep any impaired driver off the road and to stop situations where 
innocent people are injured or killed.

"That's our main concern at Madd," said Meunier. "The people who get 
hurt are victims. Their families and their loved ones are victims. so 
definitely, this is a concern for us."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom