One major topic amongst the looming regulations for recreational cannabis in Canada is one concerning drivers and the tough penalties they face if found driving under the influence of marijuana. If you are a regular user of cannabis and you drive, you may want to tune in.
As an adult who is fully aware of the risks of impaired driving, I in no way condone driving “under the influence” if indeed one’s driving has become impaired. But unlike an alcohol drinker that has liquid courage and a false sense of confidence from the effects of the booze, a cannabis smoker is not only more present to their current condition, rather, they may even be more sensitive to it than when sober.
But forget my opinion, and how about we stick to some facts…
Unlike alcohol, cannabis can and is used for its therapeutic benefits by millions in Canada, where many use it to treat their health issues in order to get on ‘normally’ with their daily lives. Frequent users of cannabis also build a tolerance to its psychoactive effects allowing them to function with often little, to no impact to their abilities.
Despite tolerance playing such a high factor in a user’s ability to perform, it’s a word seldom mentioned in discussions by politicians and authorities. And with medical cannabis being legalized in Canada for a number of years now, one would expect a responsible government to put a little more thought into how these new driving regulations will affect medical cannabis patients, while being educated on the factors of tolerance.
Today there are several methods police can use to determine if a driver is impaired. One of the most thorough and direct methods is usually a physical impairment test conducted on the side of the road. A recent U.S. study found that just four roadside tests used by non-specialist police officers can detect over 95 per cent of drivers ‘stoned’ on marijuana. This, in conjunction with a blood/alcohol detection device has proved to be very effective in detecting drunk drivers. The fear is that proposed devices for cannabinoid detection are still in experimental stages and do not factor in things like a user’s tolerance. Already there have been records of drivers in America being arrested for producing a false-positive result for cannabis-use while being tested with some of the new cannabis detection devices on the field. These cases then have to get fought in court.
With the thousands of global studies on the effects of marijuana on the human brain and behaviour, it should not be too difficult to develop a more advanced form of roadside impairment test that also detects cannabis impairment. At the end of the day, we don’t need to stop drivers who smoke cannabis… we need to stop dangerous drivers. It probably hasn’t even occurred to many that Cannabidiol (CBD) can often be used to counteract the psychoactive effects of THC quite rapidly. I wonder if these detectors will be advanced enough to differentiate between the different cannabinoids. Alternatively, maybe more focus needs to be placed on developing rapid recovery CBD solutions.
What about the large percentage of medical patients that may be under the influence of other prescribed medications with impairing side effects? A 2010 American study of deadly crashes found that about 47 percent of drivers who tested positive for drugs had used a prescription drug. With the rise of opiate-based medications I’m sure that number is higher now. As you read this, there are probably thousands of Canadians driving on the roads with impairing medications coursing through their bodies.
I don’t believe there are higher penalties for someone driving impaired on their prescription medicine, so why should there be penalties for cannabis impairment when it’s often used for its therapeutic benefits, rather than a substance simply for recreational use? Surely, if such penalties are being put into place, some differentiation has to be made for cannabis users who have a medicinal prescription. If that’s not the case, it will be yet another example of how cannabis and its users continues to be unfairly regulated and mistreated, especially when compared to its deadlier counterparts like tobacco, alcohol and many prescription medications.
Word through the grapevine is that soon we’ll be seeing ads and billboards implying you may be an unsafe driver if you have the munchies. Not surprising, given the already ignorant and misunderstood messaging delivered to the public by media, government, and various “experts” across different fields.
So what will the Canadian government do to ensure they aren’t impeding on a Canadian medical cannabis patient’s right to conduct a vehicle and travel when they introduce these cannabis driving laws? That’s a tough one, and a lot will depend on whether detection devices will be used and how much weight they hold in court. But in the meantime, you may want to park up before you spark up.