Cannabis News Students for Sensible Drug Policy
  Don't Criminalize Drug-Driving
Posted by CN Staff on April 27, 2004 at 23:18:45 PT
By Emile Therien, Globe and Mail Update  
Source: Globe and Mail  

Canada Justice Minister Irwin Cotler this week tabled criminal legislation to address drivers impaired by drugs. The government wants to train police to recognize the symptoms of impairment so officers can conduct roadside tests and then proceed, where appropriate, to saliva, urine or blood testing.

The problem is that drug-driving is a much more complicated issue than most people realize.

A variety of legal and illegal substances fall under the category of "drugs." Would a driver under the influence of prescription medications be treated the same way under the Criminal Code as a driver on pot or cocaine?

Will criminal levels of impairment be set for prescription medications (and combinations thereof, including low amounts of alcohol)? Moreover, some drugs can be detected in the body long after their effect has worn off. For example, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the active ingredient in cannabis) can be detected in the body for up to four weeks, although its impairing effects do not last.

However, if there is to be testing, defensible criminal impairment levels must be established for all substances that can produce impairment. Combinations of substances should also be taken into account. Then, after criminal impairment levels are established, comes the challenge of having approved tools to measure those levels, and police trained to use those tools.

The legal community has concerns about this and fears that a physical roadside test may not stand up in court.

Legislation that will effectively address drug-impaired driving is a complex, long-term goal. Yet immediate action is needed to protect the public. The priority must be public safety and not simply punishment.

Most provinces and territories impose administrative licence suspensions on drivers if a police officer believes a driver is affected by alcohol, even if the driver has not exceeded the Criminal Code limit for consumption. These administrative licence suspensions (applied under highway traffic acts) remove potentially dangerous drivers from the road. They provide a stern and effective warning without the punitive lifetime consequences of a criminal record and a costly criminal court case.

Such an approach should be taken immediately in the case of drug-impaired drivers. Police with reason to believe a driver's ability is being adversely affected by any drug (legal or illegal) should have authority to suspend that driver's licence under provincial highway traffic safety acts.

There are fears that decriminalizing possession of small amounts of cannabis will lead to a rise in pot-smoking drivers. Whether or not this will happen is an open question. The fact is, we already have a serious problem. A 2002 national survey found that 1.5 per cent of drivers surveyed had used marijuana within two hours of taking the wheel during the past year; young men were most likely to drive after using marijuana or other illegal drugs.

In a 2002 Quebec study, cannabis was detected in 19.5 per cent of driver fatalities. A 2003 Ontario study showed 15 per cent of students in grades 10 to 13 who had a driver's licence reported driving within an hour after consuming two or more drinks during the past year. Even more, 20 per cent, reported driving within an hour after using cannabis.

In 2002, the European Union initiated related research on cannabis. Results of the EU study, expected within the next two years, may provide a much-needed basis for legislation, at least with respect to that substance.

Making conduct criminal is society's ultimate condemnation. The Criminal Code of Canada addresses transgressions such as murder, robbery and assault, that violate basic societal norms. Criminal sanctions are very severe; the legal process to charge and convict a felon is intricate and costly. Understandably, persons charged with a criminal offence often choose to defend themselves to avoid the lifelong stigma of a criminal record, which brings restrictions on travel outside Canada and limits job opportunities.

The proposed criminal drug-driving provisions will certainly be challenged. Roadside suspensions, on the other hand, would send a strong message with immediate consequences to anyone caught driving while on drugs. Most importantly, suspensions take dangerous drivers off the road so they can't harm themselves and others.

Emile Therien is president of the Canada Safety Council.

Source: Globe and Mail (Canada)
Author: Emile Therien, Globe and Mail Update
Published: Wednesday, April 28, 2004
Copyright: 2004 The Globe and Mail Company

Related Articles & Web Site:

Cannabis News Canadian Links

MADD, Police Groups Slam Proposed Pot Law

Ottawa To Let Police Conduct Roadside Tests

Home    Comment    Email    Register    Recent Comments    Help

Comment #4 posted by afterburner on May 01, 2004 at 05:39:37 PT
Cultural Divide?
Woody and Ron's organic hemp-fuelled tofu test LIAM LACEY [Globe and Mail] Today's Paper: Friday, April 30, 2004 12:00 AM Page R9 'Go Further Directed by Ron Mann With Woody Harrelson, Steve Clarke and Ken Kesey Classification: 14A Rating: **1/2 Old hippies never die, they just get recycled as environmental activists. That's the spirit of Ron Mann's new documentary, Go Further, which follows actor Woody Harrelson and an entourage - a yoga teacher, an activist, a vegetarian cook and a junk-food addict - as they travel down the West Cost of the United States from Oregon through California on their ''Simple Organic Living'' lecture tour.' FULL STORY

Roadside drug tests 2004-05-01 01:00:00 [Toronto Star - Editorials] "Driving while impaired by drugs is already an offence under the Criminal Code, just as it is to drive while drunk. It carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment when it causes the death of another person."

[ Post Comment ]

Comment #3 posted by Jose Melendez on April 28, 2004 at 14:36:16 PT
Driving? Know thyself, don't drink alcohol!
"Forty percent of crash deaths - or 17,401 - were alcohol-related, NHTSA said. That was about the same as 2002, when 17,419 people died in alcohol-related crashes. "

"Do not drive a car or operate machinery until you know how MARINOL® Capsules affects you. While taking MARINOL® Capsules, do not drink alcohol, smoke marijuana, or take other drugs that have an effect on the central nervous system (such as sedatives or hypnotics). Unless advised by your doctor, do not use MARINOL® Capsules if you are pregnant or nursing. "

"Patients receiving treatment with Marinol should be specifically warned not to drive, operate machinery, or engage in any hazardous activity until it is established that they are able to tolerate the drug and to perform such tasks safely. "

[ Post Comment ]

Comment #2 posted by Truth on April 28, 2004 at 07:27:00 PT
That's what it says on my marrinol. I used it as an argument with the CHP that yes it is ok for me to drive with thc in my system. He let me go and let me keep my medicine.

[ Post Comment ]
Comment #1 posted by fearfull on April 28, 2004 at 06:37:01 PT
One other thing
Mant prescriptioin drugs come with warnings on them that state in effect, this drug may cause drowziness use caution driving untill you have become familiar with it's effects. I know this to be fact because I am taking such medications, and I have become familier with the effects. What is it about pot that is different? Is it not possable to become familiar with its effects?

[ Post Comment ]

  Post Comment
Name:        Password:


Comment:   [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]

Link URL:
Link Title:

Return to Main Menu

So everyone may enjoy this service and to keep it running, here are some guidelines: NO spamming, NO commercial advertising, NO flamming, NO illegal activity, and NO sexually explicit materials. Lastly, we reserve the right to remove any message for any reason!

This web page and related elements are for informative purposes only and thus the use of any of this information is at your risk! We do not own nor are responsible for visitor comments. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107 and The Berne Convention on Literary and Artistic Works, Article 10, news clippings on this site are made available without profit for research and educational purposes. Any trademarks, trade names, service marks, or service names used on this site are the property of their respective owners. Page updated on April 27, 2004 at 23:18:45