Government struggles with cannabis measurement parameters

Last Spring, the federal government announced two bills that will constitute the country’s legislation for cannabis legalization. Bill C-45 outlines the law for production, possession, safety standards, distribution, and sales, and Bill C-46, outlines impairment driving practices including roadside testing and limits for impairment. Both bills were passed by the House of Commons, but neither will be up and running by the government’s initial July of 2018 deadline. Additionally, due to uncertainty over the legislation and enforcement of cannabis impairment, the federal government has decided to focus first on Bill C-45 before tackling drug-impaired driving.

While the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee focuses on cannabis legalization, experts including toxicologists and law enforcement will be advising the Senate committee on how to proceed to achieve consensus on impairment levels of THC found in people suspected of driving under the influence of cannabis. This extra time will also allow Canadian law enforcement agencies to prepare sufficiently to implement the bills when they are introduced to the public.

Committee member Independent Senator André Pratte has said, “Drugs, and cannabis in particular, is very different from alcohol. Alcohol we know that 0.08 you’re impaired, and that’s been scientifically proven. Drugs, cannabis, it’s not clear,” and adds that the delayed bills will likely be passed by June of 2018, meaning an early Fall implementation.

Currently, the proposed legislation states that 2-5 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood while driving would constitute a criminal offence and face a fine of up to $1,000; however, experts have said that each person’s tolerance for marijuana is different and there is no government-approved roadside test for marijuana available to date.

“Unlike alcohol, however, the effects of THC do not correlate directly with THC blood concentrations,” says Chair of the Canadian Society of Forensic Sciences’ Drugs and Driving Committee Amy Peaire. “Instead, THC impairment demonstrates variability between individuals but is related to the amount, the route of administration and the time elapsed since use…It’s a very difficult exercise to try and determine a per se blood level for THC. Unlike alcohol, in which you can have blood concentrations which have links to impairment, that’s not the same for THC because there’s not a good correlation between impairment and blood concentrations.”

For those who partake this means that weekend use of cannabis could still present in a Monday test—and the user could face criminal charges in a roadside test long after the effects of the drug have worn off.
“I think the probability is that a large number of people will be charged with being impaired while driving through the consumption of THC, who aren’t impaired at all,” Criminal Defence Lawyer Michael Spratt has said. “Someone’s going to get charged. Someone’s going to face those consequences and go through the expense of challenging the laws as being unconstitutional, it will make its way up to the Supreme Court and five years from now, seven years from now, we’ll have our answer.”

During the committee this past January, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould said the government would be able to amend the bills when and if faced with an update in the available science. Another concern is the institution of adequate funding for municipalities and police forces in preparation for the new drug laws. Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said, “There’s still a long way to go before the summer, so we’re working on all fronts to get this adopted in the right order. We are also working on the accreditation of testing machines so that the roadside testing devices will be available and properly accredited…We’re still on track and we’re determined to work with all our partners to get this done on time and get it done right.”

“We expect more situations, more people driving under the influence, so that’s why we have to train more officers to be able to deal the demand on the roads,” Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police President Mario Harel said. “Our concern is the timeframe that we’ll have to train about 65,000 officers across country, so this will be a task we’ll have to prioritize … We’ll have to really, really step up with the training… and be as ready as possible.”

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