Ottawa needs to urgently enact laws allowing police to test motorists for cannabis use, or risk more road fatalities, says the head of MADD Canada.
Marijuana use is to be legalized in Canada in July. But a federal bill allowing police officers to test for three types of drugs — marijuana, cocaine and methamphetamines — still needs to be approved by Senate, even though it was already passed by the House of Commons.
The Senate won’t sit again until February, and “the clock is ticking,” said Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Canada.
He joins Red Deer city council and other municipal leaders, and police, who have expressed concerns there isn’t adequate preparation time before marijuana is legalized.
While Murie believes “certain senators don’t want to pass anything to do with cannabis,” he noted that police officers will need time to be trained in oral fluid testing.
This would entail taking a saliva swab from the driver’s tongue and running this sample through a hand-held device that picks up drug traces. If traces are found, the motorist would be ordered to get to a clinic for a more conclusive blood test within two hours.
Murie noted it takes time to change human behavior — as well as the false assumption that taking drugs before driving is somehow less dangerous than drinking alcohol. “If it impairs, it can be as dangerous,” he stressed.
While televised commercials sponsored by MADD and the federal government are warning the public about driving while high, he believes it’s vital to have enforcement options to deal with all impaired drivers.
MADD therefore supports a bill that’s expected to change the way drunk drivers are handled in this province.
Alberta’s laws would become more like B.C.’s and Murie believes this is a good thing, since Canada’s most westerly province has seen a 50 per cent decline in drunk-driving related fatalities since 2010.
“B.C.’s (law) is better because it provides immediate, effective penalties,” he said, including a 30-day vehicle impoundment, the requirement to drive for one year with an alcohol interlock (equipment that doesn’t allow cars to start if there is alcohol in the driver’s breath), compulsory education programs and fines.
Last May, Alberta’s drunk driving laws were struck down as unconstitutional by Alberta’s Court of Appeal and the NDP government was given a year to introduce new legislation.