Pubdate: Mon, 22 Feb 2016
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 The Globe and Mail Company


Article 253 (1) of the Criminal Code of Canada outlaws the operation a
motor vehicle, boat, aircraft or railway engine while a "person's
ability to operate . . . is impaired by alcohol or a drug." The
provision has existed for decades, but it's only recently that the
justice system has seriously tried coming to grips with the question
of drugged driving - and it has done so only semi-successfully. As the
federal government prepares to legalize marijuana, here's another item
to add to the to-do list: setting out specific enforcement criteria
for driving under its influence.

Other countries have done it - the United Kingdom has perhaps the
strictest and most comprehensive set of laws - but not without
difficulty. There are problems associated with establishing baseline
levels of impairment. It took years to establish a consensus on legal
limits for blood-alcohol content. Even those are imperfect, frequently
contested, and variable according to jurisdiction.

With pot, there isn't a ton of science on its effects on drivers. A
2002 special Senate committee considered the available evidence and
suggested it might not constitute as serious an accident risk as
alcohol. Some studies conducted in the intervening years have
concluded otherwise. Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Centre on
Substance Abuse argue that stoned drivers are at least as dangerous as
their drunk counterparts.

Once the thorny issue of acceptable thresholds has been dispensed
with, there's the question of coming up with a testing system that
will stand up in court. The traditional observational methods used by
police - things like balance tests - aren't always an accurate
measurement of whether someone is impaired by pot. Blood analysis is
believed to be effective, but it's invasive. Road-side saliva testing
can be expensive, and it's often inconclusive.

In other words, figuring out how to measure driving while high is a
work in progress. But before legalization happens, there will have to
be strict rules surrounding the substances people ingest when they get
behind the wheel. Legalizing pot, as we've said before, will not mean
the absence of laws surrounding pot. Instead, rules and regulations
will have to multiply, covering where and to whom the drug can be
sold, how it will be taxed, where it can be used - and what
constitutes abuse.
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