MADD worried about repercussions of legal pot on roads
Mothers Against Drunk Driving says before Canada legalizes marijuana, police need better tools to test stoned motorists.
According to MADD, the current system for detecting, charging and prosecuting people who are high behind the wheel is broken, and the organization is worried the newly-elected Liberal government will legalize pot before it’s fixed.
“If police don’t get any powers to test people and then all of a sudden marijuana is legalized, this problem is going to get a lot worse,” said MADD CEO Andrew Murie. “There’s going to be a lot more deaths and injuries.”
MADD is recommending Canadian police use currently-available saliva tests to detect pot, as they do in Australia and some European countries.
Testing for marijuana-intoxication isn’t as simple as testing for drunkenness, however.
Non-active metabolites from marijuana can stay in a driver’s system for weeks, and saliva tests aren’t capable of differentiating between people who are high, and people who potentially used pot days earlier.
That’s an issue Cannabix Technologies is hoping to solve once and for all.
Founder Kal Malhi, a former RCMP officer, said the company is working on the first marijuana breathalyzer that will be able to detect whether someone used pot within the previous two hours.
“It indicates that the person is impaired at the time of the test, and not 48 hours ago,” Malhi said. “It offers solid evidence that will stand up in court.”
The marijuana breathalyzer is currently in the prototype phase, Malhi said, but he hopes it will be ready for use within two years.
That might be too long for the newly-elected Liberal government, which has promised to make marijuana legalization an early priority.
But not everyone believes the issue is as dire as MADD does. Criminal defence lawyer Paul Pearson said Canada already has the tools necessary to prosecute drug-impaired driving.
“Really, the best evidence in impaired driving investigations is from the police officer,” Pearson said.
“The bottom line is: if you’re drunk out of your mind or if you’re stoned out of your mind, the police can tell that when they pull you over. It’s not rocket science.”
A combination of available blood, urine or saliva testing and an officer’s account of an accused driver’s behaviour should be all police need, Pearson argued.
He also noted the science on driving under the influence of marijuana is unclear.
According to one study from the University of Oregon, even though research has shown pot use impairs reaction time and hand-eye coordination, it hasn’t provided “consistent evidence that these impairments to driving-related functions lead to an increased risk of collision.”
“I hope that everyone applies a reasonable attitude toward this and looks at whether or not people are actually a danger when they’re… using marijuana,” Pearson said.
The evidence out of U.S.s tates that have legalized pot hasn't done much to clarify the issue, either.
Since Colorado legalized recreational marijuana, the number of people involved in deadly crashes who test positive for pot has gone up – but highway fatalities have also gone down year after year.
Washington saw a similar spike in positive pot tests, but more than half of the drivers were also found to be under the influence of alcohol.
With files from CTV Vancouver's Shaheed Devji