After recreational cannabis becomes legal this fall, it’s likely that many users will at some point have an important choice to make – whether or not to get behind the wheel of a vehicle after smoking.
Regulations governing how much THC will be permitted in one’s bloodstream are yet to be finalized, but the Government of Canada is looking at implementing three offences via Bill C-46.
Between two and five nanograms would net someone a summary offence and a $1000 fine.
Five or more nanograms -- akin to being caught with a blood alcohol concentration over .08 -- would get you an impaired driving charge. The maximum sentence is 10 years, or life if somebody is killed.
A combination of THC (over 2.5 ng) and alcohol (over .05) would warrant something similar.
In response to the federal bill, the Alberta government passed Bill 29 last fall, which expands the Zero Tolerance Program for graduated drivers and stipulates a 90-day licence suspension for drivers found to have blood-THC levels higher than limits imposed by the federal government.
"It is a drug, just like alcohol. It's been proven time and time again that the consumption of drugs can affect your ability to operate a motor vehicle,” says Sgt. Kevin Halwa, Red Deer RCMP. “Of course this is a concern to not only the police, but it should be a concern to anybody on the roadway, either as a driver, or somebody else sharing it."
One's insurance costs may rise or you could incur a license suspension, but killing someone will stick with you for life, Halwa adds.
Travis McIntyre is the President and CEO of Stigma Pharmaceuticals, a medical cannabis production facility in Red Deer County which will soon begin cultivating and eventually provide product to the AGLC for distribution to retail shops.
He says even as someone in the industry, one of his and the company’s top priorities is the safety of clients, their families and employees.
“With protection technology struggling to keep up, we believe it’s the responsibility of the person to remember that if you smoke or ingest cannabis, you don’t drive,” he says. “It may be your loved one who is at risk.”
McIntyre says Stigma will offer those who come into the company’s facility medical and counselling references, as well as other information pertaining to the safe use of cannabis.
Meanwhile, Alberta’s health authority is also warning people to be smart about their cannabis use.
“What we are promoting is that people are aware of the harms of cannabis use, the risks of using it and being able to use it in a more careful approach -- in a good way,” says Dr. Mohammed Mosli, Medical Officer of Health for AHS Central Zone. “This is a public health approach to make sure that whatever is out there, we try to reach out to youth, the public, and have a conversation.”
Mosli says the black market for cannabis will persist and pose a threat to the ones, namely youth, who are acquiring cannabis through that route. He says product obtained that way is often laced with other more dangerous substances like fentanyl and nicotine.
At the end of the day, he says, the message about using cannabis and then getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle is clear: “Cannabis definitely impairs a person’s ability to react and to focus, concentrate and follow the rules of the road. It does create a significant risk of harm to those who are driving, those who are in the vehicles with them and those who are around them on the road.”
According to data from Alberta RCMP K Division, 6107 files related to impaired driving were created between Jan. 1 and June 18 of this year. Of those, 379 were related to drug impaired driving.
Thirty-five of those were issued some sort of court action, 58 were unfounded, and 146 went unsolved.
According to the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, it is unlikely the goal of 2000 officers trained in drug-spotting will be met by the time legalization rolls around. Natalie Wright, a spokeswoman with the association, told the Canadian Press last week that only 733 had been trained as of May.
"We are confident in our present processes, knowing that they will continually improve with time as we build capacity," Wright stated.
A report from Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) shows that while only four per cent of impaired driving cases are related to drugs, 2014 testing showed the presence of drugs in the bloodstreams of drivers killed in collisions.
An additional report quoted by MADD from the Colorado Department of Public Safety shows that in the year following cannabis legalization in that state in 2014, fatalities involving THC-positive drivers increased 44 per cent.
The Government of Canada says 28 per cent of Canadians who have used cannabis reported having operated a vehicle while under the influence.
(with file from The Canadian Press)
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