Pubdate: Tue, 20 Feb 2018
Source: Metro (Vancouver, CN BC)
Copyright: 2018 Metro Canada
Author: David P. Ball
Page: 3


As legalization looms, experts say we're not road safe yet

As Canada readies to legalize pot this summer, experts including an
ex-traffic cop warn we're still stumped about stopping stoned drivers
from hitting B.C.'S streets.

"I've stopped lots of people who have been under the influence of
marijuana," recalls retired West Vancouver traffic enforcement officer
Cpl. Grant Gottgetreu. "You had to get really good at making

"Unless a person gets pulled over and there's an overwhelming smell of
burned marijuana from the car … there's still no instrument out there
to test like there is for alcohol yet."

Federal bill C-46 sets the maximum amount of pot's psychoactive
chemical, THC, in drivers' blood at two nanograms per millilitre, but
it's stalled in the Senate. But without an easy way to measure it,
busting marijuana-addled motorists has vexed B.C.'S public safety
minister Mike Farnworth.

"It's one of the areas I've said where we have real concerns about
when the equipment to test that's being used will be ready," he said
Feb. 5, "and the training that's going to be required."

But some Canadians' lax attitudes to being lit behind the gear shift
has UBC Medicine clinical assistant professor Dr. John Staples worried.

He compared 25 years of stats in the U.S. (where more people and
public data offer a larger sample) between three dates; fatal traffic
accidents spiked an average 12 per cent on April 20 after 4:20 p.m. -
when "4/20" pot events begin - and under-21 drivers had a 38 per cent

"It's quite likely that lots of people celebrating it are also
drinking alcohol and using other drugs," he noted. "Certainly there's
some evidence to suggest that driving risks are magnified when
cannabis and alcohol are combined."

A 2012 study found that 7.4 per cent of randomly chosen B.C. drivers
had a "potentially impairing substance" not booze in their saliva - 44
per cent of it THC.

If passed, C-46 would allow police "to demand that the driver provide
a sample of a bodily substance for analysis." Saliva testing is one
idea, but the most surefire is a blood test. But it's fraught with
civil liberties questions.

"It's extremely intrusive," Gottgetreu noted. "And who would collect
the blood?"

THC also stays in the body for days - without any impairment. So a
promising solution is an impairment test like one by B.C. medical
device firm Opthalight. Its head-mounted tool observes how the eyes
react to stimulus.

Co-founder Ehsan Daneshi, a Simon Fraser University computational
neuroscientist, said it could be used for DUI testing, but is
financially risky.

"Maybe we have a couple different companies with different technology,
but probably only one will sign a contract with the government - and
the other is out of the market," he said. "If government could
actually make a new stream for funding these kinds of technologies
that would help.

"But without those technologies yet? Just legalizing marijuana I'm not
sure is the best decision to make at this time."

Staples agreed technology is crucial, but urged leaders to "think
about other policies to prevent impaired driving from occurring in the
first place," he said. "A substantial minority of Canadians believe
intoxication with marijuana doesn't affect their driving. That's
simply not true. Don't drive high."

Gottgetreu isn't sure there'll be "pandemonium" on the road under
legalization. But without a roadside test, enforcement requires "good
old-fashioned police" sleuthing. "It's going to be a logistical
nightmare for the courts," he predicted. "You have to convince the
judge of the reliability of the evidence … if (not) they're obviously
not going to convict."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt