marijuana leaves held in a hand

Marijuana (File photo)

With the possibility of liberalized marijuana laws being passed in Canada in this year, there is also a concern about how that will play out in terms of impaired driving caused by drugs.

Steve Meunier, the president of the Timmins chapter of MADD Canada (Mother’s Against Drunk Driving), said the concern is a valid one.

“MADD is obviously concerned about this at a corporate level, and that focuses down to the chapters as well, and of course we are all concerned,” said Meunier.

“Unfortunately people still make the conscious decision to get behind the wheel when they’re impaired by alcohol. And people impaired by drug is becoming more and more commonplace,” he added.

And while there are checks in place to catch and prosecute drinking drivers, Meunier said it doesn’t mean that drug users would be getting a free ride. He said the Criminal Code of Canada outlines that impaired driving can occur because of alcohol or because of a drug. This can include marijuana, he said.

Meunier, who is also an OPP Sergeant, said he has a police officer on his platoon who is a certified drug recognition expert, whose job is to apply testing to drivers suspected of being impaired by drugs.

“They’re trained at an expert level in the United States and they bring this training back and they apply it in Canada,” he said. “We find more and more people are impaired by drugs. I guess that’s the bottom line. It seems to be a trend.”

Meunier did not get into any ethical or moral discussion about marijuana but he said the concern is that it would be adding another possible scenario to the situation where more drivers are on the road who are under the influence of a drug that can impair their judgement and physical reflexes.

“So you know legalizing marijuana, or liberalizing the rules around that, would be a definite concern. It would be a concern both for me as a police officer and as a representative of MADD,” he said.

Meunier said most drivers are aware of the dangers, and the penalties, of drinking and driving. He said what he fears is that people will think it is okay to use drugs because they won’t get caught if they’re driving.

“They might think the police won’t find out. Well, they will. There are accepted methods and tests that are applied to individuals who are suspected of driving after having used narcotics. They’re accepted by the courts and these people end up being convicted,” said Meunier.

He said it would be reasonable to expect that if people are given the right to have marijuana, then those people would have to accept the responsibility of not driving within a certain time period.

“I would expect that if they’re going to legalize marijuana, I mean it would be no different than alcohol, there would have to be accepted level where you are not considered to be impaired by the drug. I don’t think they’ve gotten that far yet,” Meunier remarked.

While there is a roadside breath test that can be applied for people who have had too much to drink, Meunier conceded there is no such machine on the market yet for marijuana.

There is however, a procedure in place for drivers who are seen to drive erratically, they’re seen to be not fully coherent and yet they have no indications of alcohol. That’s when the police can use their expert officers.

“The drug recognition expert, the officer who is trained to that level, will administer a series of tests to the driver,” said Meunier. If the person is found to respond poorly, the driver can be brought back to the police detachment.

“The drug recognition expert can demand a urine sample, which would later be sent to the Centre for Forensic Sciences for analysis,” he explained.

“That is now accepted by the courts as evidence of impairment by drug.”

“Now if the individual decides they’re not going to provide a sample, then it is no different than if they fail to provide a sample of their breath into a breathalzyer. They will be charged for refusal,” Meunier continued.

“When you refuse, well that’s a criminal offence all on its own,” he said.

Meunier said there are many cases where a motorist is pulled over for displaying poor driving habits. He said in his time as a police officer he has seen cases where drivers are just too tired. But in other cases, said Meunier, its obvious that driver fatigue is not the issue.

“If you go to the person and you can’t detect any alcohol whatsoever, then it is not unreasonable to think maybe this person is impaired by drug,” he said.

“Officers are trained to the level to know, you know there’s something not right here. There’s something wrong with this person operating this motor vehicle. They’re displaying all the signs, minus the smell of the alcoholic beverage. So it is reasonable to suspect this person may be impaired, possibly by drug,” said Meunier.

He said it is all the same to the MADD organization, which wants to keep any impaired driver off the road and to stop situations where innocent people are injured or killed.

“That’s our main concern at MADD,” said Meunier. “The people who get hurt are victims. Their families and their loved ones are victims. So definitely, this is a concern for us.”

Source: Timmins Press