Article by Solomon Israel, Winnipeg Free Press
Legalizing cannabis in Canada next summer could unleash a dangerous wave of stoned drivers on the nation’s roads, warn police, road-safety advocates and opposition politicians.
The Liberal government is attempting to take precautions by reforming drug-impaired driving laws through Bill C-46, tabled alongside the Cannabis Act last April. When Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould outlined how police would use the powers proposed in the bill to combat drug-impaired driving, it sounded straightforward:
“The police would be authorized to demand an oral fluid sample if they have reasonable suspicion that the driver has drugs in their body,” Wilson-Raybould said.
“A positive result would provide them with useful information in determining whether or not they have reasonable grounds to demand either a blood sample or a drug evaluation at the police station.”
Those blood samples or drug evaluations could then serve as evidence of impaired driving, just as breathalyzer tests serve as evidence of alcohol impairment.
Experts warn, however, that testing blood samples to determine impairment by cannabis is fraught with scientific complications that undermine the value of blood samples as evidence— and drug evaluations conducted by police officers don’t always hold up in court.
How Bill C-46 would address cannabis-impaired driving
In legal parlance, the proposed limits on blood-drug concentrations are known as “per se” limits. Mirroring the legal approach to blood-alcohol levels, Bill C-46 would enable a quantitative ceiling on the amount of a specific chemical component of cannabis that can be detected in the blood of drivers. Having a blood-drug concentration that exceeds the legal limit would be a criminal offence in and of itself, regardless of whether the driver is objectively impaired.
The specific limits on cannabis blood concentrations aren’t laid out in the legislation itself, and would determined by later regulations. An April background document from Health Canada, however, revealed the exact limits under consideration, which would measure nanograms (billionths of a gram) of THC per millilitre of blood within two hours of driving. (THC refers to tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.)
Drivers found to have between two and five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood within two hours of driving would face a summary conviction offence with a maximum fine of $1,000, according to the document.
Drivers with five or more nanograms of THC would face a hybrid offence, allowing Crown prosecutors to opt for a summary conviction or proceed to a more serious indictable offence.