Starting next July Canada’s marijuana market will be very different indeed. The province answered a few of the questions around selling recreational pot on Dec. 5, including where it will be sold and to whom. But one remaining question is how to keep the roads safe and drivers sober?
Acumen lawyer Kyla Lee answers this question in her interview on CBC:
CBC: How concerned are you about an increase of impaired driving once recreational marijuana is made legal
Kyla: I’m not. I don’t think that recreational marijuana is going to do anything to increase the number of people on the roads driving while impaired. They’re already out there. They’re already smoking marijuana and driving. If they’re going to do it they’re doing it already.
I’m concerned about the fact they’re already out there. But I’m not concerned that it’s going to increase once we have legalization of recreational marijuana. Not at all.
CBC: A recent study conducted in Colorado where it is legal now, it compared marijuana use before and after legalization. In adults 18 and over, usage rates went up roughly 5%. if there are more pot users, should we not think then perhaps there would be more high drivers.
Kyla: I don’t think so, and I think there’s two reasons for that. The first reason the people who are choosing not to use it now because it’s illegal are people who are making the decision based on the law. So they’re not going to put themselves behind the wheel of a vehicle, while they have marijuana in their bodies or while they feel impaired by marijuana because they’re the type of people who follow the law and are taking steps to do that.
Just because we have an increase in marijuana users doesn’t mean that there’s going to be an increase in marijuana impaired drivers. There’s actually studies that have found that the ability to detect your own impairment by marijuana is much different than with alcohol. Alcohol lowers your inhibitions, means that you can’t tell that you’re impaired, but with marijuana drivers are actually capable of making that assessment of going, woah, I’m in no condition to drive.
Kyla: Yes. The studies have shown that people who are impaired by marijuana can feel their impairment and don’t drive. There’s also a decrease of motivation … it lowers your inhibitions but in a different way. The lack of motivation that comes with smoking marijuana, sort of the lazy stoned feeling you get, sort of convinces people not to drive anyway because its such a difficult thing to do.
CBC: How do you think it’ll be policed. Because that’s been another concern. Putting on your legal lawyer hat now, if you are defending a client let’s say, who has been charged with impaired driving, what will that argument be like now?
Kyla: It’s difficult to say, right now we have a structure in place under the Criminal Code for dealing with marijuana impaired driving but its a terrible system. We use the first stage tests that were never designed to be used for drugs. They don’t actually apply to the type of marijuana effects on the body. One of them is called the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, it look’s for involuntary jerking of your eyeball. But that doesn’t actually happen when you use marijuana. So the tests aren’t even specific to the drug we’re using them for.
What I think is going to be really interesting to see is what the provincial government intends to do on the administrative side to deal with marijuana impaired driving. They’ve sort of hinted at the notion they’re going to create a provincial regulatory scheme for the roads for how to deal with impaired driving, but they haven’t said what that’s going to look like.
CBC: What about the standardized test that the police use now, the standardized field sobriety test. What’s that like?
Kyla: It’s three steps. So the first is that horizontal gaze nystagmus test I told you about, the second is called the one leg stand, where you stand on one leg for 30 seconds, and they test your balance, which most people cant really do anyway. And the third is walking the line, you’ve probably seen that on TV. Those tests were designed by the National Highway Traffic Safety association in the United States to be specific to alcohol. And they were designing a drug recognition program at the same time they were designing these tests, and they determined they couldn’t apply to drugs. But here in Canada we use them almost exclusively to drugs.
Listen to Kyla Lee’s full interview on CBC The Early Edition:
2:11:00 – 2:18:00