Article by David Brown, Lift News
As the Senate debates new impaired driving legislation, some Senators are expressing concern with how the legislation will impact medical cannabis patients.
Bill C-46, the impaired driving companion legislation to Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, provides a host of new proposed rules and limits for those impaired by drugs or alcohol, as well as new rights for police to screen drivers for these substances.
Thus far, the debate in the Senate around C-46, An Act to amend the Criminal Code (offences relating to conveyances) and to make consequential amendments to other Acts, has focused largely on both the need for more robust impaired driving legislation, not only for cannabis and other drugs, but also alcohol, as well as concerns raised by numerous experts in the House Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights in relation to the constitutionality of some of the more aggressive and intrusive aspects of the bill.
In relation to cannabis and THC, the bill proposes three legal limits be enacted to set a summary conviction:
1) When a driver is found to have between two and five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood. This offence would be punishable by a maximum fine of $1,000 and a discretionary driving prohibition of up to one year.
2) A hybrid offence, a more serious criminal offence that would apply when a driver had 5 or more nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood.
3) A hybrid offence would apply when drivers have more than 2.5 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood in combination with 50 milligrams of alcohol per 100 millilitres of blood.
The second and third offences would be punishable by mandatory penalties of $1,000 for the first offence and increasing penalties for repeat offenders, with maximum penalties being similar to those for alcohol-impaired driving.
In the few hours of debate at second reading so far, Senators who have spoken have expressed support for the bill, but also cautioned that some of the limits may be challenged in court, especially in relation to concerns with the accuracy of available testing equipment in determining impairment rather than simply the presence of THC or cannabinoids. This is especially true for medical cannabis users who may have a higher threshold for cannabis and because cannabinoids can stay in one’s system for several hours or days after consumption.
In a speech on November 22, Senator Saint-Germain said she had concerns that the legislation could discriminate against medical cannabis patients.
“Canadians who use cannabis for medical purposes may be disproportionately affected by the new approach,” said Saint-Germain. “Does Bill C-46 take these Canadians’ circumstances into account? These measures should not inadvertently discriminate against patients who use medical cannabis to treat conditions like chronic pain. Not only will the committee have to examine whether this measure complies with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, but it will also have to consider the alternatives available to medical cannabis users in this context.
“We know that tolerance for cannabis varies widely from one individual to another, as does the length of time that traces of THC stay in a person’s system,” continued the Independent Senator from De la Vallière, Quebec. “The different consumption methods could also have an impact, which is something that has not been discussed much so far. However, the data currently available suggests that to avoid driving over the limit, long-time users of medical cannabis may have to wait several days before getting behind the wheel, even if their faculties remain unimpaired.”