Legalization leading to increased driving while impaired by marijuana?

Legalized marijuana will lead to more impaired driving according to police representatives testifying before the House of Commons Justice Committee, which is hearing evidence about the government’s new impaired driving law, designed to coincide with the legalization of marijuana.  The police expressed concern with the number of trained officers, as quoted in the National Post on September 20, 2017:

“There is no doubt that the primary concern of policing in Canada is impaired driving,” said Mario Harel, director of the Gatineau Police Service. “It is our belief that it will become an even greater issue with the legalization of cannabis.”

The justice committee is sitting this week to hear testimony about the government’s new impaired-driving law, designed to coincide with the legalization of marijuana.

Harel and other representatives of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police told the committee they are concerned about getting enough officers trained in time for July 2018, the deadline the Liberal government has set to legalize the drug.

Harel said many more officers need to be trained as drug-recognition experts, but currently, officers are often sent to the U.S. for training “at significant cost.”

Still, Gord Jones, superintendent of the association’s traffic committee, said police “have not sat dormant” over the last several years. Canada already has upward of 600 drug-recognition experts, he said. Since the new legislation was announced earlier this year, the Ontario Police College has planned dozens of new training courses for standardized field sobriety testing — roadside testing that includes having drivers walk in a straight line or stand on one leg. The aim is to have 2,000 new officers trained by the end of 2019.

“We haven’t sat idle,” Jones said. “Will it meet the demand? I would hazard a guess not.”

There are, however, significant concerns with the ability of police officers to accurately determine if someone is impaired by marijuana.

Not guilty of driving while impaired by weed

The problem of police officers reliably determining whether a driver is impaired by marijuana was highlighted in an August 2017 case, where our client was acquitted of driving under the influence of marijuana.

There was a minor accident.  Several police officers believed our client was sober; however, he failed the roadside sobriety tests and was arrested.  At the police station, he showed minor problems with the DRE coordination tests.  Ultimately our client was found not guilty after a trial because:

  • The roadside Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) were not conducted in the required manner, and were scored incorrectly. The Court determined that the arrest of our client was illegal.
  • Urine samples can only show that someone smoked marijuana within days or weeks of the test, because they only show the presence of marijuana metabolites. The samples cannot show if someone is impaired to drive.
  • The Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE) who conducted the tests at the police station discounted the normal results on the coordination tests and physiological indicators.

These types of mistakes are often committed by SFST and DRE officers.  For an example of the problems with Drug Recognition Evaluators in a different read case, click here.

Ottawa Criminal Lawyer

Charged with impaired driving by marijuana or drug in Ontario? Contact Ottawa criminal lawyer Brett McGarry to discuss the best defence for your case.

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