Impaired driving is among the leading criminal causes of death and injury in Canada. It is a serious offence that significantly jeopardizes public safety, as impaired drivers risk the lives of themselves, and others on the road, including passengers and pedestrians. When an individual is driving, it is of upmost importance that his brain be focused and alert. Even small amounts of drugs can negatively impact a person’s ability to drive in a safe manner. Attention, judgement, motor skills, reaction time, balance and coordination can all decrease when someone consumes marijuana. Therefore, as the government moves forward with the legalization of cannabis, they have introduced a bill (bill C-46) proposal to strengthen the penalties for impaired driving and increase police powers to enforce these new laws.
Under the Criminal Code, driving while impaired by any drug is prohibited. Current sanctions for drug-impaired driving range from a $1000 fine to 120 days in jail. Life imprisonment is an available penalty for drug-impaired driving that causes death. In addition, police officers have the ability to conduct standardized sobriety tests only if they suspect a driver has drugs in their body. Furthermore, only doctors in hospitals can administer blood tests, which help determine the level of drugs in one’s body. As a result, the existing procedures are time consuming, and often lead to the deterioration of evidence, which can be detrimental to the prosecution’s case.
The enactment of Bill C-46 would empower the police to demand saliva samples from those they suspect of having consumed drugs. They will be equipped with “roadside oral fluid drug screeners”, which will have the ability to determine the amount of THC in a person’s body. The legal limits for THC, as per Bill C-46 would be 2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5ng per 1 millilitre (ml) of blood for a summary conviction offence, and 5ng or more per 1 ml of blood for a drug-only hybrid offence.
In addition, Bill C-46 would also enable qualified technicians to take blood samples from drivers, without the need of doctor supervision. This change would not only increase the accuracy and timeliness of testing, which is an important element in the successful prosecution of impaired driving, it would also assist in alleviating the burden on our already clogged up health care system. Moreover, Bill C-46 would allow police officers to provide opinion evidence in court about whether they believe a driver, at the time of testing, was impaired by a drug. Expert witnesses, who are an added expense for the courts, would not be necessary to comment on the sobriety of the accused, making it easier for the prosecution to prove its case..
Car crashes involving teenagers are largely caused by poor judgement and inexperience. When these factors are combined with marijuana, the outcome can be disastrous. In 2014-2015, the Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey reported that 5% of students in grades 7 to 12 indicated having driven a vehicle within 2 hours of marijuana use. Similarly, 15% of students in grades 7 to 12 reported being a passenger in a vehicle was the operated by someone who had used cannabis in the last 2 hours. Hence, in order to maintain public safety, a fundamental objective of the new marijuana legislation will be to restrict youth access to cannabis.
Under the new Cannabis Act, individuals are prohibited from selling and providing marijuana to any person under the age of 18. In order to protect youth, two new criminal offences will be added to the Criminal Code: 1) giving or selling cannabis to youth, and 2) using a youth to commit a cannabis-related offence. The maximum penalty for these offences is 14 years of imprisonment. Furthermore, in order to discourage youth from using marijuana, the Act also prohibits the creation of products that may be appealing to youth, and labelling or packaging marijuana in a way that attracts youth. For instance, packaging cannot depict fictional or real persons in a manner that suggests marijuana consumption is glamorous, exciting, daring, etc. In other words, there will be no Marlborough “weed” Man in Canada. Furthermore, promoting marijuana can only be done in limited circumstances where a young person cannot view it. Those who violate these prohibitions can be fined up to $5 million or be sent to jail for 3 years.
Furthermore, individuals who are 12 years of age or older, but under 18, cannot possess more than 5 grams of dried cannabis. Nevertheless, even though the Cannabis Act allows access for a young person to marijuana of 5 grams or less, it is up to individual provinces to limit possession of any amount of cannabis found on a young person.
By committing $9.6 million to a comprehensive public awareness campaign, the government strives to inform Canadians, especially youth, of the harmful affects of marijuana consumption. This educational campaign will assist in helping young Canadians understand the risks and consequences of, for instance, driving under the influence of drugs. The future legalization of marijuana necessitates that the government make efforts to educate society about marijuana consumption in general, and how the new legislative framework will impacts their rights.