Laws on pot-impaired driving remain hazy

No clear definition of what constitutes “impaired”

When the recreational use of cannabis became legal in Canada on Oct.17, concerns were raised that drug-impaired driving would become an issue on the nation’s roadways.

That fear has not translated into widespread reality yet, but it’s not to say that the concern was not well-founded or that there are no issues surrounding drug impaired enforcement.

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The National Institute on Drug Abuse says marijuana significantly impairs judgement, motor coordination and reaction time.

Studies have shown a direct relationship between blood THC concentration and impaired driving ability.

In reaction to the liberalized laws, Mothers Against Drunk Driving has sounded the alarm, and in April B.C.’s top cop, Solicitor General Make Farnworth expressed frustration at Ottawa’s slow pace in selecting roadside testing equipment that would be able to detect marijuana-impaired drivers.

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Now, although the federal government has approved the use of the Drager DrugTest 5000 for roadside testing, many police detachments have not embraced the technology in the face of studies that showed the device reported false positive results up to 14.5 per cent of the time. There have also been indications that the device does not function properly at low temperatures.

There are also questions about what level of THC in the system leads to impairment. It took years to settle on the .08 blood alcohol level as a measure of impairment. Cannabis is a bit more complex. It stays in the system longer and the ug/L (micrograms/litre) level that denotes impairment has not been set.

On Vancouver Island, Sooke RCMP Sgt. Clayton Weibe said the detachment does not use the Drager device and, instead, relies on the traditional Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST). He added that no ug/L level has been determined by the federal government as being too much to drive.

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The SFST involves the drivers being examined for horizontal gaze nystagmus (the eyes make repetitive, uncontrolled movements), the one-leg stand and the walk-and-turn tests.

If a driver fails the SFST they can be taken into the station where a DRE will conduct a 12 step procedure that can culminate with a demand for a urine, oral fluid or blood sample.

The problem is that, while the RCMP claims that the SFST “has undergone a number of field validation studies” it continues to be criticized as being subjective and inaccurate in nature.

“I just want to remind people that the bottom line is that it’s just not worth it. The punishments for drug-impaired driving are the same as those in place for alcohol and drivers should be aware that they can be stopped, tested and charged,” said Weibe.

“The best idea is to just not do it. If you have consumed cannabis through smoking, edibles or any other method, don’t drive.”

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