Al­berta’s trans­port min­is­ter an­nounced the province is to re­vamp ad­min­is­tra­tive im­paired driv­ing penal­ties, which will cover driv­ing while high.

Changes to im­paired driv­ing laws on road to pot le­gal­iza­tion

Calgary Sun - - NEWS - CLARE CLANCY cclancy@postmedia.com @clare­clancy

ED­MON­TON — The NDP in­tro­duced leg­is­la­tion Tues­day that aims to fill the gap in im­paired driv­ing rules ahead of cannabis le­gal­iza­tion across Canada.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment has pro­posed spe­cific drug lim­its as well as penal­ties for driv­ers who break the law. Ot­tawa has also touted the de­vel­op­ment of a road­side drug test in prepa­ra­tion for the July 1 mile­stone when cannabis be­comes le­gal.

Al­berta Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Brian Ma­son said Bill 29 — which up­dates the Traffic Safety Act — will re­duce the num­ber of im­paired driv­ers on the road and en­cour­age safe driv­ing if passed.

Risk on the roads

“Other ju­ris­dic­tions have seen an in­crease in im­paired driv­ing when cannabis has be­come le­gal,” Ma­son said, adding the province will roll out a public ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign. “The real risk here is that peo­ple don’t feel cannabis is quite as bad or ... is im­pair­ing a sub­stance as al­co­hol. Noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.”

Al­berta’s rules are a re­sponse to fed­eral leg­is­la­tion and pend­ing changes to the Crim­i­nal Code of Canada.

Un­der Bill C-46, driv­ers would face a max­i­mum $1,000 fine if their blood tested pos­i­tive for two to five nanograms per millil­itre of tetrahy­dro­cannabi­nol (THC), the main psy­choac­tive com­pound in cannabis.

For driv­ers with more than five ng/ml of THC de­tected on a first im­paired driv­ing of­fence, a min­i­mum $1,000 fine would be im­posed, with in­creas­ingly harsher penal­ties such as jail time for sub­se­quent of­fences.

The rules also im­pose penal­ties for com­bined al­co­hol­cannabis use of 2.5 ng/ml of THC with a blood al­co­hol level of .05.

Those are among the changes that would take ef­fect when the fed­eral gov­ern­ment has its leg­is­la­tion in place.

Po­lice don’t have a road­side test for cannabis im­pair­ment yet, but saliva-based screen­ing has been un­der de­vel­op­ment.

Ma­son said driv­ers shouldn’t con­sume cannabis at least 24 hours be­fore get­ting be­hind the wheel.

“The cannabis en­force­ment mir­rors what we do with al­co­hol,” he added.

There would be zero tol­er­ance for new driv­ers un­der Al­berta’s grad­u­ated li­cens­ing rules.

Al­berta’s leg­is­la­tion will also in­clude other changes to take ef­fect Feb. 1.

Cur­rently, im­paired driv­ers with a blood al­co­hol mea­sur­ing over .08 face an in­def­i­nite sus­pen­sion. The Traffic Safety Act will be up­dated to im­pose a fixedterm sus­pen­sion — driv­ers who are im­paired by al­co­hol or drugs will lose their li­cences for 90 days. After the sus­pen­sion pe­riod, driv­ers will be able to choose be­tween a one-year ig­ni­tion in­ter­lock pro­gram or they can wait out the year­long sus­pen­sion.

The province had un­til May 2018 to change the rule in re­sponse to an Al­berta Court of Ap­peal rul­ing ear­lier this year that found in­def­i­nite sus­pen­sions vi­o­lated Char­ter rights.

Push for zero-tol­er­ance

The Al­berta Mo­tor Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion will push for a zero-tol­er­ance ap­proach to cannabis use among pro­fes­sional driv­ers, said spokesman Dan Duck­er­ing.

Brenda John­son, spokes­woman for Mothers Against Drunk Driv­ing (MADD) Canada, praised the leg­is­la­tion, but said the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis will make roads more dan­ger­ous.

“We’ve dealt with al­co­hol for over 30 years now in this coun­try and our roads still aren’t safer,” she said.

A sep­a­rate piece of leg­is­la­tion on cannabis sales is ex­pected Thurs­day.

The gov­ern­ment is opt­ing for a hy­brid sys­tem in­clud­ing pri­vate stores and on­line sales that are con­trolled by gov­ern­ment, ac­cord­ing to sources.

DAVID BLOOM/POSTMEDIA

Al­berta Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Brian Ma­son an­nounces Tues­day amend­ments to Bill 29 — which up­dates the Traffic Safety Act — in prepa­ra­tion of the le­gal­iza­tion of cannabis.

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