Pubdate: Fri, 02 Dec 2016
Source: Calgary Herald (CN AB)
Copyright: 2016 Postmedia Network
Author: Trevor Howell
Page: A1


The Alberta government has rolled out a $167,000 online ad campaign
warning drivers that getting behind the wheel high on marijuana "face
the same consequences" as drunk drivers.

The series of ads, which began popping up on websites and social media
Nov. 29, are aimed at younger, less experienced drivers who, may
engage in riskier behaviour and believe marijuana doesn't impair their
abilities, said Wendy Doyle, Alberta Transportation's executive
director for the office of traffic safety.

"A lot of people believe that A) it's safer, B) that they can't get
caught, or C) that the consequences are different or not as severe as
driving if you're drunk," she said.

One of the illustrated two-panel ads depicts four women in a
convertible with the driver passing a bottle of beer to a passenger.

The second panel shows a nearly identical image but has the driver
passing a joint.

The ad warns, "Spot the Difference" and "Behind the Wheel, There Isn't

"When we look at the Criminal Code and when we look at impairment -
substances that impair your cognitive abilities to safely drive a
vehicle - cannabis most definitely is that," said Doyle.

Doyle said officials from Colorado and Washington, states that
legalized recreational marijuana use in recent years, urged Alberta to
launch education campaigns and collect baseline data before Ottawa
introduces and passes legalization legislation.

The Trudeau government promised to introduce legislation next

Its nine-member task force submitted its recommendations earlier this

The government panel's findings won't be made public until
mid-December. Provincial and municipal governments have been bracing
for the impact of legalization on a range of issues, such as land-use
planning and business licensing, legal age limits and impaired driving.

"In the eyes of the law, there is no difference between drunk driving
and drugged driving," Transportation Minister Brian Mason said in a

"That is because alcohol and drugs impair a driver's ability and
increase the risk of an otherwise fully preventable crash."

There is no legal blood-concentration driving limit for THC, the
primary psychoactive cannabinoid found in marijuana.

Further, blood concentration tests may not accurately reflect whether
someone who has used marijuana is impaired.

THC can be detected weeks after it was consumed.

And chronic users - such as medicinal users - can develop a higher
tolerance to its effects than those who imbibe occasionally.

"Our premise is to really get out in front of any legislation to start
getting people to think about, 'OK, driving is a task and a privilege
and I need to make sure that for whatever I'm using (cannabis) … I
have to be cognizant that it would impair my ability to safely operate
that vehicle,'" said Doyle.

The Canadian Automobile Association has called for a federally funded
public education program to warn of the dangers of cannabis-impaired
driving before the country legalizes recreational pot.

Research has shown marijuana can negatively impact drivers' reaction
time, concentration, short-term memory and visual function, according
to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse.

However, studies out of the U.S. and the European Union found
marijuana smokers have only a minimally higher risk of getting into an
accident than sober drivers - and pose far less risk than drunk
drivers. Craig Jones, executive director the cannabis law reform group
NORML Canada, said the Alberta government ad campaign appears
well-intentioned but cautioned the threat of legal action typically
falls on deaf ears.

"If they're thinking public education and public health, they're going
in the right direction," Jones said.

"If they're thinking that people are going to respond to criminal
sanctions, then there's not much evidence that works.

"We're going to have to unlearn a great deal of mythology from the
reefer madness era.

"But I don't think the sky is going to fall and now that we're
emerging from the big-war-on-drugs lie we can begin to do really
informed, respectful public education around things like driving."
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