New Marijuana Driving Rules Leave Questions Unanswered

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The Canadian Automobile Association (CAA) believes the marijuana legislation recently introduced in Canada would establish stiff new penalties for drug-impaired driving, but that several issues still need to be dealt with to make the new regime effective.

CAA believes three issues need to be addressed for an effective drugs driving regime: clear law, tools for law enforcement and public education. Today’s announcement deals with the law but leaves questions around funding and public education. At the same time, CAA is pleased the government toughened the Criminal Code provisions on alcohol-impaired driving to increase penalties and make it easier to secure a conviction.

“The legislation introduced today is a positive step but it is only one piece of the puzzle,” said Jeff Walker, vice president of public affairs, CAA National. “We’re still waiting for the details on additional funding to make the legislation enforceable. This needs to happen sooner rather than later.”

While the government recently committed to making more money available to train police in drug recognition and to acquire testing devices, it didn’t say how much or when it will be available. The government also reiterated a Budget 2017 commitment to spend less than $2 million a year over five years on public education – a sum that is clearly inadequate, given the misconceptions about marijuana’s effect on driving.

CAA polling has found almost two thirds of Canadians (63%) are concerned that roads will become more dangerous with the legalization of marijuana, and that 26% of Canadians between the ages of 18 and 34 believe a driver is either the same or better on the road under the influence of marijuana.

“Right now law enforcement is not sufficiently equipped to enforce the law and the cost to train them is high,” said Walker. “And we know from our experience with alcohol that public education significantly reduces the amount of impaired driving. It is urgent we get police properly trained, and messaging on myths and penalties to people.”

In addition, the new law would require a positive blood test within two hours in order to get a conviction. Evidence from US jurisdictions is that it often takes longer than two hours to complete the process, and also requires the presence of a trained technician to take the sample, putting a tough burden on law enforcement and raising questions about how workable the provision will be.

(Source: Canadian Automobile Association)

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