Pubdate: Thu, 05 Oct 2017
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2017 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: John Ibbitson
Page: A9


When marijuana use becomes legal next July, more people will drive
drugged. Because there is no breath-analysis machine available, police
will have a hard time detecting these drivers and securing
convictions. Proposed measures to make it easier for police to lay a
charge are cumbersome, expensive and possibly unconstitutional.

That doesn't mean the Trudeau government should abandon plans to
legalize marijuana. But we should face facts.

"If you're saying to me, 'With these new measures, drug-impaired
driving enforcement won't be at a level to have a dramatic deterrent
impact on behaviour,' I agree with you," says Robert Solomon, a law
professor at the University of Western Ontario who is director of
legal policy for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada.

The confusion around policing drugimpaired driving is one of the many
challenges government will face as marijuana is legalized.

Adult marijuana use increases once it's legal. In Colorado, where
consumption has been legal since 2014, use among adults went from 17
per cent of the population before legalization to 20 per cent
afterward, according to a 2016 federal study. It follows that
increased use will lead to increased abuse, such as driving while impaired.

Under Bill C-46, the criminal-justice legislation that accompanies
marijuana legalization, impaired driving due to cannabis use will
occur when a person's blood drug concentration (BDC) is above a
certain limit. But no breath-analysis machine exists that accurately
measures the amount of THC - the mind-altering chemical in cannabis -
in a person's blood.

There are machines that can detect the presence of THC in a person's
saliva, which under C-46 the police would legally be able to obtain.
But this new law may prove to be unconstitutional.

"It is a highly invasive technique and a serious intrusion on privacy,
safety and integrity," criminal defence lawyer Jordana Goldlist said
in an e-mail exchange. "It is not a matter of the individual blowing
into a mouthpiece but police actually extracting a sample from one's

Furthermore, "saliva contains DNA, which ordinarily requires a search
warrant for the police to obtain," she said. "Bill C-46 would allow
police to collect a sample of a suspect's DNA under the false pretense
of a sobriety test."

Prof. Solomon is much more confident of the measure's
constitutionality. He compared handing over a swab of your saliva with
security screening at an airport, where you may be subjected to a full
body scan while your luggage is searched. "I think many people would
find that more intrusive," he believes.

The real problem, Prof. Solomon says, is that the saliva test, the
field sobriety test to determine impairment, and ultimately the blood
test that may accompany a charge, take a long time to administer and
cost a lot of money. "We don't have any cheap, highly accurate, quick
mechanism for screening large numbers of drivers for drugs. We just
don't." And it's unlikely we will any time soon.

For police forces, coping with the expected increase in drugged
driving will be like "trying to drain an Olympic-sized pool with a
garden hose in a rainstorm," as Saint John police chief John Bates put
it. The key to preventing drinking and driving was the fear of getting
caught: the RIDE program, the Breathalyzer test. For marijuana, none
of that is available.

Of course, people are toking and driving now. They are taking legal
drugs such as painkillers and then getting behind the wheel high. They
are mixing drugs and alcohol, and otherwise behaving irresponsibly.
Legalization may not increase levels of impaired driving all that much.

Robert Mann, of Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, has
been conducting research on how marijuana use affects driving ability.
"They're different drugs, and so not surprisingly the effects are
different," he said in an interview. But his research shows that both
drugs increase the driver's risk of being involved in a car crash.

Dr. Mann looks to provincial measures, such as licence suspensions, to
keep people who toke out of their cars. And he says he's optimistic
that improved technology will make it easier to detect and deter
drugged driving. In the meantime, it's up to us. Before you light up,
hand over your keys. Even if it's harder for the cops to catch you,
it's just not worth the risk.
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