Pubdate: Tue, 19 Sep 2017
Source: Ottawa Citizen (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Postmedia Network Inc.
Author: David Reevely
Page: A3


Ontario uses pending cannabis legalization as chance to toughen
penalties for both

The impending legalization of marijuana has the Ontario government
planning to toughen the penalties for driving drunk, not just stoned.

The changes, announced by Premier Kathleen Wynne and Transportation
Minister Steven Del Duca Monday morning, will particularly affect
drivers under age 21, novice drivers with limited licences and
commercial drivers. None of them will be permitted to have any alcohol
or cannabis in their systems if they're driving, and violations will
be treated with harsher roadside punishments - steeper cash penalties
and, in some cases, longer driving suspensions.

Technically, these are "administrative penalties," not fines, which
means police can apply them unilaterally, on the spot.

"Let me be clear: Driving while impaired is not acceptable and will
not be tolerated," Del Duca said at the Queen's Park news conference,
his manner grim. Ontario has one of the best records on traffic
collisions and deaths in North America, he said, but "our previous
accomplishments in this regard do not necessarily guarantee future

Though driving impaired by any drug is illegal, drug laws have done
the heavy lifting in punishing stoned drivers. Once pot is legal, the
police will need other ways of handling drivers they catch going 15 in
a 50 zone, redeyed and giggly.

In Ontario, cases of impaired driving have been declining. Between
2008 and 2014, the last year for which the province has published
complete figures, the number of criminal convictions for impaired
driving fell from about 7,000 to about 3,400. The number of roadside
licence suspensions declined from about 17,600 to about 13,600.

But the trailblazer in North America everyone looks to is Colorado,
which legalized recreational marijuana in 2014 and has seen the number
of road fatalities involving drivers with cannabis in their systems
more than double.

So, first thing, no pot at all for youth drivers, those with graduated
licences, or at the wheels of commercial vehicles. They'll test your
spit with a (yet-to-be-approved) cannabis-detection device and if they
find any, it'll mean a three-day licence suspension on the spot, a
$250 not-afine fine and possible referral for re-education. Graduated
licence drivers might have to start over again. Being caught a second
time will mean a seven-day suspension and a $350 penalty; a third time
will mean a 30-day suspension and a $450 penalty.

The reason for treating novice and younger drivers more harshly is
that they're more likely to get into collisions and especially need
their wits about them, the government says. Commercial drivers are
more likely to pilot larger, heavier vehicles that can do more harm in
a crash.

The same penalties will apply to all drivers with blood-alcohol
readings over 0.05 and those who fail sobriety tests because of any
kind of intoxication. That toughens the current financial penalty of
$198. And drivers caught with blood-alcohol readings over 0.08 will
face the same 90-day suspensions they do now, but increased financial
penalties of $550.

"All of these measures are in addition to federal criminal charges for
impaired driving," Del Duca said. A driver could face a pile of these
various penalties for one impaired outing behind the wheel.

Toughening the drunk-driving penalties at the same time as bringing in
new drugged-driving rules is meant to make them easier to remember and
understand, Del Duca said, because there won't be one set of penalties
for alcohol and one for marijuana.

The transportation minister was the designated heavy, taking up the
role shared by the finance minister, health minister and attorney
general in a similar presentation about a week ago on how Ontario will
sell pot. The subtext of all four ministerial performances has been
that they're doing this because the feds are making them and they
really hate it.

Wynne, meanwhile, was in isn't-this-an-interesting-policy-problem
mode, which is perhaps her favourite. She hadn't been at the retailing
announcement so this was her first time talking about the logistics of
legalizing marijuana. She herself decided the government's initial
plan for 40 LCBO -like marijuana shops wasn't enough, that it would
leave too much of the market to illegal sales, she said. So that's why
the plan is to open 150 stores within a couple of years of
legalization next summer.

"This is a new frontier for us here in Ontario. It's a real shift for
all of us across the country," she said. The government's been working
on its plans for months and is one of the provinces that's done the
most so far.

"We in Ontario had a very clear goal. We had a goal to balance the new
freedom that people in Ontario will have to use cannabis
recreationally with the expectation that it will be used safely."

How, for instance, are drivers who are allowed to have smoked a little
pot to know just how stoned they can expect to get? That'll take
education and a clear labelling regime for how strong different
strains of pot are. Even so, people are notoriously bad at judging how
drunk they get, despite decades of effort by public-health and
law-enforcement authorities.

"There's a lot of work yet to be done and potency is one part of
that," Wynne said.
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