Canada’s new impaired driving laws are set to come into effect to align with cannabis legalization, but concerns still remain regarding the validity of road side testing for cannabis intoxication.
In a release, the Canadian government said it will invest “$919,065 over three years to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) to help advance scientific knowledge on the impacts of cannabis on drivers ranging in age from 19 to 45.”
The study aims to help determine how THC can affect driving across ages and genders, and whether things like risk-taking and reaction time are modified by increased levels of THC.
“While we have known for a long time that cannabis use affects our ability to drive, more in-depth and targeted knowledge is necessary to set limits for blood concentrations of THC,” said Professor Bruna Brands, Research Scientist at Health Canada and Collaborating Scientist at CAMH. “This research will enable us to set such limits, comparable to those which were set for alcohol several decades ago.”
The study will be completed by June 2020, but the new cannabis-impairment laws will come into force later this year.
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Arbitrary THC limits
“I’m puzzled, as a scientist,” Dr. George, a researcher at CAMH and professor at the University of Toronto, previously told Daily Hive.
“I don’t understand how this framework is [quantifying] impairment when I’m saying clinically if we can’t detect cannabis in someone’s urine at levels at less than 20, we call that abstinence.”
According to the Impaired Driving Act, drivers with THC levels between 2 ng and 5 ng can be fined up to $1000, while THC levels above 5 ng can lead to 120 days of jail time for a third offence.
Dr. George said that one of the issues with reliable roadside testing is that people develop a tolerance to cannabis, and of equal concern is that you can test positive for THC even if you’re sober.
THC is fat soluble and therefore stays in your body for much longer than alcohol, which can dissipate in hours.
The long-acting metabolite carboxy THC is what gets measured via blood, saliva, or urine, and that can take “a month to wash out of someone’s system if you’re a regular user,” said Dr. George.
Evidence from the US says we are still 10-15 years away from a reliable roadside test, “yet our government claims to have this all figured out.”
Cannabis industry responds
Chuck Rifici, Founder and CEO of Auxly Group and Founder of Canopy Growth, is prepared to challenge these new regulations.
Unfortunate but predictable. #C46 is bad #cannabis policy made into law and I look forward to working with @KirkTousaw and others on reversing this unscientific and harm inducing action by @liberal_party – break out your chequebooks industry friends. https://t.co/YUQHUB6xpO
— Chuck Rifici 🔴 (@crifici) June 20, 2018
“It looks like low-hanging fruit for a judicial challenge and I think we’ll see the courts strike it down pretty fast,” Rifici told Daily Hive.
“About a year ago when we first starting hearing about this, I pledged publicly that I would help fund legal action. Now that this is law, I’m definitely looking to rally others from the industry to help contribute to the eventual case that will fix C-46.”
“I’m looking to support that initiative and find an organization or group that would be leading that,” said Rifici.
Rifici anticipates that “something will take place before October 17,” with the hopes of bringing the issue to court before someone is actually charged with cannabis-impaired driving.
“Impaired driving has always been illegal, whether it be cannabis, prescription drugs, or being tired, but there are specific tests for different types of impairment.”
“The biggest issue is that the blood limit that can lead to criminal outcomes doesn’t mean you’re impaired [from cannabis],” said Rifici.
“Why draw a line that means nothing and apply criminal charges to it?,” Rifici lamented.
“For medical cannabis patients who typically use higher doses or will be more consistent users because they are usually treating a symptom, it almost makes it that no medical cannabis patients can drive.”
Rifici is also concerned that “things don’t go to supreme court right away. I’m sure it’ll be challenged and it’ll take time so in the meantime you’ll have a lot of people who will have to stop driving.”