By Dan Walton
Has the legalization of marijuana increased the amount of stoned drivers on the road?
If so, it “remains to be seen,” according to Cpl. Mike Halskov, media relations with the RCMP’s South Okanagan Traffic Services.
However, “There may have been an expectation that there would be a significant increase in the number of people found driving under the influence of cannabis with the introduction of the new legislation.”
Halskov said impaired driving investigations are nothing new for the RCMP, which has been conducting them since 1921.
Police were able to enforce against high driving long before legalization, but since Oct. 17, they are now able to issue tickets for certain offences instead of criminal charges, Halskov said.
“It is still a bit soon to say how many tickets have been issued under the Cannabis Control and Licensing Act (CCLA) and those stats are compiled and released by ICBC once the data is in.”
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Under the new laws of the CCLA, drivers who possess or consume marijuana are committing offences that are “actually a close parallel to offences in the Liquor Control and Licensing Act,” said Halskov.
“The bottom line is this: Impaired driving, be it by alcohol or drugs was illegal prior to legalization of cannabis, and it remains so today.”
Impaired driving investigations are not a perfect science, he said, as “These types of investigations are very complex and technical.”
Halskov was asked: after consuming marijuana, how much time has to pass before it’s safe and legal to drive again?
“The best advice I can give is that if you have consumed anything that can impair your ability to drive (alcohol/drugs/prescriptions), consider not driving at all and finding alternate ways home.”
According to Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the answer is four hours.
According to the federal government’s website, “There is no standard waiting time to drive after using cannabis.”
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The federal government warns that a “moderate social dose” of marijuana can cause a person to be impaired for more than 24 hours.
But for those familiar with the effects of marijuana, it sounds ridiculous to think that somebody could still be high more than 24 hours after consumption.
The Canadian government backs up that claim by citing a study from 1991 which involved only nine participants.
Amanda Stewart, who owns Valley Hemp Imports & Co. in Oliver, thinks the government should base its laws on independent and peer-reviewed studies. She wonders why the CCLA is based upon studies that were sponsored either by governments or pharmaceutical companies.
“It hasn’t really been what I would call legalization, more of a monopolization,” she said. “It’s strange to see that there’s so many barriers for people to go into business selling cannabis.”
Since legalization, Stewart said many customers have been asking if they could buy weed at her shop.
“It’s legal now, why aren’t you selling it?” has become a regular question at Valley Hemp.
“The government hasn’t done a good job informing people on their version of legalization,” she said.
However, Stewart has noticed more seniors taking up an interest in marijuana, “and the role it can play in their health. A lot of older Canadians wouldn’t have thought of trying it when it was illegal.”
Back to the roads.
If an RCMP officer suspects a driver is stoned, that officer may subject the motorist to a Standardized Field Sobriety Testing (SFST), and possibly have them submit to a battery of tests conducted by a Drug Recognition Expert.
THC doesn’t even have to be detected in the saliva of a driver in order to press charges. If the police officer doesn’t have a screening device, they can demand SFST and charge drivers who fail. If a driver does spit into a screening device and no THC is detected, the officer can still initiate the SFST and charge those who fail.