THE BLOG
14/07/2018 07:51 SAST | Updated 14/07/2018 07:51 SAST

How High Is Too High To Drive? Canada Puts The Cannabis Cart Before The Horse

While its legalisation of cannabis is a progressive move, the Canadian government will introduce 'impaired driving' laws BEFORE doing any research on how to measure impairment.

On July 3 2018, Canada's federal government announced its plan to earmark nearly C$1-million (~R10-million) towards research on cannabis-impaired driving.

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is set to undertake a three-year study to determine, once and for all, how high is too high for a person to drive.

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This announcement comes just three months shy of when both Bills C-45 and C-46 will be passed into law. Respectively, these bills will make recreational cannabis legal in Canada and will fundamentally alter the nation's impaired-driving laws as they relate to the drug.

Bill C-46 will create a handful of new laws with respect to cannabis-impaired driving.

For starters, it will allow police officers to use roadside oral fluid-screening devices to detect the presence of drugs in a driver's body for the first time in the country.

It will also create a bevy of new offences for drug-impaired driving — specifically, cannabis-impaired driving. Drivers with two to five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood will face criminal charges, which could result in a fine up to C$1,000 (~R10,000). Drivers with more than five nanograms — or with a combination of THC and alcohol in their systems — will face much harsher penalties under the new laws.

Marijuana users could be unfairly punished and stigmatised, even if they pose absolutely no threat or risk to public safety whatsoever.

This means that drivers do not necessarily need to be impaired — or affected — by cannabis in order to be convicted of a criminal offence come October 17 2018. Simply having a particular amount of THC in your body will be enough to brand you a criminal, regardless of your physical symptomology.

Under these laws, medical marijuana users — and chronic recreational users, for that matter — could be unfairly punished and stigmatised as a result of their actions, even if they pose absolutely no threat or risk to public safety whatsoever.

Many medical experts, forensic toxicologists, scientists and lawyers have warned against this scheme.

I and others have argued this untenable system has the potential to breach individual liberties and encroach upon Charter-protected rights, and also lacks scientific backing.

Unlike alcohol, THC is not metabolised by the human body in a consistent manner across the board.

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Variables like a user's tolerance level, the method by which they have consumed, and even their body mass index could affect how quickly THC either breaks down — or doesn't — in their body. THC can stay in your body for weeks — even months — after use, and long after you've stopped feeling high.

But variables like these can also impact how impaired a person will get.

Depending on your tolerance level and exposure to cannabis products, you might experience the same amount of marijuana in a completely different way than your friend. There's no way to predict how one person might respond to a particular strain of cannabis or another, either.

This means that the level of THC in a high person's body does not necessarily translate into how impaired they really are. Unfortunately, it's a lot hazier than that.

By allotting a large sum of money to research how high a driver needs to be to be too high to drive safely, the government appears to acknowledge this difficult reality. This should make us wonder why they would pass laws with serious consequences based on research that has yet to be completed.

While it may be impossible to speak to the government's motivation in doing so without speculating, it is possible to say that this particular facet of the bill seems irresponsible and short-sighted.

Instead of passing potentially unconstitutional criminal laws without having properly conducted the scientific research to back them up, perhaps the government should have held off until they were in a better position to create meaningful, effective and responsible laws.

After all, the C$1-million that is now budgeted towards this research is likely to pale in comparison to the countless tax-payer dollars that will be spent on defending court challenges after Bill C-46 is passed.