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13/08/2007 00:00:00

What to do about toking and driving?

Is a driver on pot as much of a danger on the road as a driver above the
legal alcohol limit?

In fact, alcohol poses a much higher driving risk than cannabis. That is
not to say it is safe to drive under the influence of pot.
Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), its psychoactive ingredient, definitely
impairs driving ability, but in very different ways from alcohol.
Relatively few road fatalities test positive for THC alone; most often,
it is found in combination with alcohol.

The criminal threshold for alcohol is a blood alcohol concentration
(BAC) of 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood. A large body of
research shows the risk of a crash starts to go up dramatically at that
level. However, no impairment levels are in place for pot. Complicating
the issue, THC can be detected in the body for up to four weeks,
although its impairing effects do not last.

Why does this matter? It matters because the federal government wants
stricter Criminal Code provisions for drug-impaired driving. The
proposed law will clog the courts while doing little to solve the problem.

Criminal legislation must be airtight. The accused is innocent until
proven guilty. A very high level of proof is required because the
consequences are extremely serious. Beyond the immediate penalties,
anyone convicted of a criminal offence will carry that record for life.

Impairment levels that will stand in a criminal court are a prerequisite
for what the government wants to do. After that, tools must be developed
and approved to measure levels for all of them. Then, police must be
trained to use those tools. This could take years because the evidence
produced must meet the rigorous demands of a criminal court.

At best, the federal government's drug driving bill is premature and
should be put on hold until the necessary prerequisites are in place.
That said, the Canada Safety Council advocates immediate precautionary

In Canada, the federal government shares responsibility for impaired
driving with the provinces and territories. The federal Criminal Code is
not the only legislation dealing with impaired driving.

Under Ontario's Highway Traffic Act, administrative licence suspensions
protect the public by taking potentially dangerous drivers off the road.
Suspensions for drinking drivers below the criminal BAC are an effective
tool in the fight against impaired driving. They give those drivers a
firm warning, with swift and certain consequences. No lengthy wait for a
trial, no exorbitant legal costs, just a major inconvenience and a
strong message never to do it again. Under traffic regulations, you're
guilty unless you can prove yourself innocent, and it's not usually
worth the expense.

To deal with the danger posed by pot-impaired drivers, the province
should expand its use of administrative licence suspensions. As for the
federal government, it finally needs to develop and fund an effective,
comprehensive national drug strategy that includes a strong element of
public education.

The underlying problem isn't that people are toking and driving.
Cannabis is illegal. Why are so many Canadians using it at all? Its
negative health and safety effects extend beyond impairment while
driving. Rather than adding unenforceable provisions to the Criminal
Code, the federal government needs to develop an intelligent strategy
that includes measures to reduce cannabis use, with an emphasis on youth
and habitual users.

Emile Therien is past president of the Canada Safety Council.

Author: Toronto Star via UKCIA

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