Pubdate: Tue, 26 Sep 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Oliver Moore
Page: A5


There will be zero tolerance for cannabis among young, novice and
commercial drivers, the Ontario government announced last week, with
the province's Premier and Transportation Minister standing before a
carefully curated group of police and safety advocates to deliver the
uncompromising message.

"We are proposing to strengthen our impaired driving laws," said
Steven Del Duca, who heads the Transportation Ministry. "Let me be
clear, driving while impaired is not acceptable and will not be tolerated."

Ministerial handouts spelled out the proposed new regime, saying that
young, novice and commercial "drivers should not get behind the wheel
if they have any detectable presence of drugs or alcohol in their system."

However, there may be less to the tough soundbite than it appears. The
provincial proposal comes before the federal government, which has
promised to legalize cannabis by next July, has even approved
standards for roadside screening devices. And since the technology
measures the presence of a drug, not the level of impairment, too
rigorous a screening approach would risk penalizing people who smoked
long before driving. Because marijuana can linger in the body, there
have been instances in other countries of drivers busted as long as
nine days after smoking, only to have the case thrown out.

Steven Laskowski, president of the Ontario Trucking Association, noted
that under the current approach, someone with a blood-alcohol content
of 0.02 or less is deemed to be at zero. "So what they're going to
have to do is develop a marijuana equivalent of point-zero-two," he

"If somebody uses cannabis in the evening, do you want them testing
positive the next day?" asked Robert Mann, a senior scientist at
Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

Ontario Ministry of Transportation spokesman Bob Nichols said in an
e-mail that it is expected that federal screening rules would be
established to turn up "recent use" of cannabis. Mr. Del Duca said
that the ministry is working with Ottawa on "the appropriate way to
deal with the notion of zero tolerance."

But Mr. Del Duca also has a stern warning for young, novice or
commercial drivers who consider mixing marijuana and driving.

"I think you need to think long and hard about exactly how you're
going to behave," he said later in the week, after a separate
road-safety announcement. "I think the responsibility we have, the
obligation I have as minister, is to err on the side of making sure we
have a regime in place that protects everybody who's using the roads."

The proposed provincial legislation is part of a flurry of preparation
by jurisdictions that is ratcheting up across the country, even as
police warn that the change is coming too fast for them to get ready.
Among the many hurdles still to be passed is figuring out the right
roadside screening devices and training police to use them.

As the country undergoes the thorny process toward cannabis
legalization, a key aspect has been settling on what's known as a per
se limit, which specifies how much of the drug has to be in a driver's
system to constitute an offence. Ottawa has decided that people with
at least two but less than five nanograms of THC per millilitre of
blood would be subject only to a fine, to a maximum of $1,000. Those
with at least five nanograms would be treated more seriously.

But this approach isn't perfect, according to experts who warn that
there is a key difference between the presence of cannabis and a
recognized level of impairment.

The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police stated in its submission
this week to the federal Standing Committee on Justice and Human
Rights that oral fluid screening devices "are not determinative of
blood drug levels or impairment."

And a report this month from the Drugs and Driving Committee of the
Canadian Society of Forensic Sciences, which has been tasked by the
federal government with developing standards for screening devices,
noted that is "a controversial exercise" to set a per se limit.

"One of the challenges for many potentially impairing drugs is that
there is not currently substantive and consistent scientific evidence
on which to base per se limits," their report states. "Setting a per
se limit does not mean that all drivers below that concentration are
not impaired and all drivers above that concentration are impaired."

At the province's zero-tolerance announcement, MADD Canada chief
executive Andrew Murie acknowledged that the best approach to dealing
with drug-impaired driving remains a work in progress.
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