A pending bill in the Senate of Canada, Bill C-46, is being held up by legislators. The bill proposes new anti-impaired driving measures, which is why Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada is not happy about the delay.
Bill C-46: Finally Tackling Cannabis
Marijuana is one of the subjects that Bill C-46 deals with. Alcohol is an old and well-researched problem on the nation’s roads. Breathalyzers and blood tests give law enforcement and courts a clear picture of a driver’s impairment. Measuring impairment with cannabis, however, has proved more elusive. Another bill under consideration, C-45, would legalize marijuana. Lawmakers have decided to put C-46 on the back burner until C-45 is given its due by the same committee.
The postponed bill has been controversial since its introduction. It gives police new powers to conduct roadside intoxication test, including saliva tests. It would make drivers who have between 2 and 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood liable to a summary criminal conviction. The maximum fine would be $1,000.
Part of the controversy is that individuals react differently to given amounts of THC in the blood. By comparison, alcohol is much more predictable. One question is whether the methods that have proven effective with alcohol will translate to marijuana. The roadside saliva tests do detect marijuana in the system, but they cannot determine impairment.
Changes in Police Procedure
Another measure being debated is the dropping of the requirement for police to have a reasonable suspicion a driver has been drinking before demanding a breath sample. Up to now, an officer would have to smell alcohol on the driver’s breath or have some other reason to request a breath test. Some attorneys believe that not having to justify ordering a test violates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
MADD: Law Change is Needed Now
MADD wants the bill to go forward now. “Lives are being lost to impaired driving every day,” says MADD Canada Chief Executive Officer Andrew Murie. “The Senate should be moving quickly to pass this legislation and protect Canadians from impaired driving, not holding up the legislation unnecessarily.”
In a news release, Murie pointed out that legalization of cannabis was not the point – drugs are present in fatal crashes almost twice as often as alcohol. The problem needs to be addressed now, and C-46 gives police the tools to screen those who have been using marijuana. Murie also cites Peter Hogg, a leading Canadian constitutional scholar, who supports the bill.
Changes are coming to Canada’s impaired driving landscape. Eventually C-46 or a bill like it will pass, codifying the offense of driving under the influence of cannabis. It’s off to a rocky start, just as DUI laws were not long after motor vehicles gained popularity about a century ago. Eventually Canada will find a way to tackle cannabis-influenced road crashes. We agree with MADD on this point: the sooner the better.