Amanda Siebert: Why cannabis users should be afraid of Bill C-46

A few weeks ago, I tweeted something that would, unwittingly, ruffle a few feathers.

“Someone needs to tell the guy ashing a joint out of his sports car sun roof that his days are numbered,” I wrote. “Wonder if he’s heard of C-46?”

I’ll be straight up: It was deleted out of sheer embarrassment after a few people pointed out that it came across as a moral assessment of the driver’s choice to smoke a joint while at the wheel.

While my intention—to point out that cops across the country are preparing for an all-out roadside offensive against drivers like the one I saw—was poorly conveyed, a follower noted that instead of making it sound like the driver deserved what was coming to him, I ought to “use my platform as a journalist” to discuss the bill’s flaws.

It’s a challenge I quickly decided to take on. 

My personal take on whether or not someone should be smoking weed while driving is irrelevant. The reality is, I’m genuinely concerned that neither the police nor the law will be able to make the distinction between a person like myself, a medical-cannabis user who might have a higher-than-average blood-THC ratio, and a driver who is genuinely impaired.

Criminal lawyer Kyla Lee of Acumen Law Corporation specializes in cases of immediate roadside prohibition (IRP) and was happy to discuss the fundamental flaw of the act that will in all likelihood amend the Criminal Code. (Bill C-46 passed a second reading in the Senate and was referred to the standing committee on legal and constitutional affairs in December 2017.)

“As far as its changes to the law related to drug-impaired driving, my biggest concern is the imposition of the two nanograms per millilitre blood-THC limit,” she said by phone from her office in Vancouver.

The bill introduces three new impaired-driving offences and will allow police officers to require drivers suspected of being under the influence of drugs to submit a blood sample for testing.

A driver with two to five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood could face a summary conviction with a maximum fine of $1,000. But a driver with more than five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood—or a combination of both alcohol and THC in their system—could face indictment, as both are considered hybrid offences.

If the bill is passed as is, Lee said, it could have a significant impact on drivers who are chronic users of marijuana.

So where does the bill fall short? For one, determining impairment by testing a driver’s blood for THC (the compound in cannabis that causes euphoria) doesn’t take into account the way the compound is processed within the body.

“The way THC is stored in your fat cells, it can break down over time, which means that even after months of abstinence, you can still have an elevated THC level, high enough to get yourself a criminal charge,” she said.

“It creates a lot of uncertainty for people, because nobody’s going to know how long you have to wait after using marijuana to be able to drive lawfully.”

The problem, she said, is that while a driver might think the impairing effects of cannabis have worn off and they are okay to get behind the wheel, the only way to know for sure is to measure their blood-THC level—not exactly as easy as blowing into your friend’s breathalyzer keychain.

“It’s not like alcohol, where it’s absorbed consistently by people and eliminated consistently by people and you can get a pretty good idea of where your blood-alcohol-content is based on what you drank, your weight, and the time that has passed,” Lee said. 

Read Amanda Siebert‘s full article here.

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