Pubdate: Tue, 06 Feb 2018
Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Copyright: 2018 The Globe and Mail Company
Author: Daniel Leblanc
Page: A2


Three federal ministers are set to defend their government's plans to
legalize cannabis in the Senate amid widespread concerns over Ottawa's
ability to crack down on drug-impaired driving once the recreational
market opens up later this year.

The Senate is currently studying two bills, C-45 and C-46, that
respectively will lift the prohibition on the recreational consumption
of marijuana and create new drug-impaired driving offences.

On Tuesday afternoon, the federal ministers of Justice, Health and
Public Safety will appear at a special session of the Senate to answer
questions about the plan to legalize cannabis for recreational use by
all adults by July 1.

A number of high-profile senators have already raised concerns over
the government's strategy to combat a potential rise in the number of
drug-impaired drivers. Ottawa is hoping to adopt C-46 as quickly as
possible to modernize Canada's impaired-driving regime, but any
amendments adopted by the Senate will delay the new legislation. Andre
Pratte, an independent senator, is concerned by statistics from the
U.S. states of Washington and Colorado showing that legalization led
to an increase in fatalities involving drivers whose THC levels were
above legal limits.

In 2013, there were 18 such fatal incidents in Colorado; by 2016, that
number had risen to 77. In Washington State, the number of
THC-positive drivers involved in fatal crashes averaged 33 a year
between 2008 and 2013; since then, there has been an average of 78
such drivers since 2014.

"What is the explanation for this stunning increase in the number of
drug-impaired drivers involved in fatal crashes? No one seems to have
the answer, but I think that Ottawa needs to go into overdrive to
understand what has happened in those two states," Mr. Pratte said.
"Is there a link to legalization? Is it a coincidence? There is no
doubt this is a major problem."

One of the key concerns among senators is the lack of drug-recognition
experts (DREs) that will be trained to detect and charge impaired
drivers after their oral-fluid samples test positive in Canada. Under
C-46, a conviction for drug-impaired driving will require a blood test
or a finding by a DRE, and not just a positive oral-fluid test.

Appearing in front of a Senate committee last week, Public Safety
Minister Ralph Goodale said there are currently 550 DREs in Canada,
with plans to double that number in coming years.

"Impaired driving is a leading cause of criminal death in our country
and it is totally preventable," he said. "This problem isn't one that
will suddenly burst upon us in the summer. The problem exists right
now, today."

However, the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse estimated in 2009 that
up to 2,000 DREs would be needed to meet demand, which would require
current numbers to quadruple. In 2008, the Canadian Association of
Chiefs of Police (CACP) estimated that Canada would need 3,000 DREs to
meet international standards.

Conservative Senator Claude Carignan, who is his party's lead critic
on the cannabis file, fears the number of DREs will not be sufficient
to meet demand as police across the country try to detect
drug-impaired drivers. He added that in his view, the legalization of
cannabis - scheduled to occur before July 1 - should be delayed to
ensure that police across Canada are ready to deal with the potential
consequences, especially on the country's roads.

"At the very least, we won't be ready before the fall of 2018," he
said. "Legalization should be delayed to ensure that all tools are in
place to control drugimpaired driving."

Appearing in front of the Senate committee on legal affairs last week,
RCMP Deputy Commissioner Kevin Brosseau did not disagree with senators
who said that delaying legalization could help law-enforcement

"Would additional time be beneficial? More time is always beneficial
to provide police time to train and plan. That's what we do. Given the
amount of time we have, we will be prepared, with the resources we
have to be able to respond," he said.
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