WEED BE­HIND THE WHEEL

prov­ince gets tough on cannabis-im­paired driv­ing

Metro Canada (Edmonton) - - Front Page - omar Mosleh

With the le­gal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana eight months away, the prov­ince un­veiled new rules Tues­day to reg­u­late driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of cannabis.

The up­dates Al­berta is mak­ing to the Traf­fic Safety Act re­flect the changes al­ready pro­posed for fed­eral im­paired driv­ing laws.

“The pur­pose of this bill is to make our roads as safe as pos­si­ble for all road users,” Al­berta Trans­porta­tion Min­is­ter Brian Mason said at a Tues­day an­nounce­ment at the leg­is­la­ture.

“The real risk here is that peo­ple don’t feel cannabis is quite as bad or as im­pair­ing a sub­stance as al­co­hol,” he added. “And noth­ing could be fur­ther from the truth.”

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s re­cently in­tro­duced Bill C-46 out­lines new pro­vi­sions to charge drug-im­paired drivers, in­clud­ing but not lim­ited to peo­ple who have con­sumed cannabis. On Tues­day, the Al­berta gov­ern­ment gave first read­ing to Bill 29, which will up­date Al­berta’s laws to mir­ror the fed­eral ones.

Un­der the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, peo­ple who have more than two nanograms of THC (the psy­choac­tive com­po­nent of cannabis) but less than five nanograms per millil­itre of blood will face a sum­mary con­vic­tion with a max­i­mum $1,000 fine.

Those with more than five nanograms per millil­itre of blood will face stronger penal­ties, sim­i­lar to im­paired drivers con­victed of hav­ing a blood al­co­hol con­cen­tra­tion of more than 0.08.

Re­cent re­search cited by Cana­dian Cen­tre on Sub­stance Abuse and Ad­dic­tion shows cannabis con­sump­tion dou­bles the risk of col­li­sion in­volve­ment.

But some ex­perts, such as Kevin A. Sa­bet, pres­i­dent of Smart Ap­proaches to Mar­i­juana and a for­mer se­nior ad­vi­sor to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s drug con­trol di­rec­tor, said the com­plex­i­ties of how THC is me­tab­o­lized in the body and brain means mea­sur­ing blood isn’t an ef­fec­tive way to de­ter­mine im­pair­ment.

“There’s no re­ally sci­en­tific ba­sis for any per se limit whether it’s two nanograms or five nanograms or 15 nanograms be­cause of the way THC me­tab­o­lizes in your body,” Sa­bet said.

THC is me­tab­o­lized and con­verted into Te­trahy­dro­cannabi­no­lic acid, which is stored in fatty tis­sues. About 80 to 90 per cent of THC is elim­i­nated from the blood­stream within an hour of con­sump­tion, he ex­plained, but be­cause it then goes to the brain, users can be im­paired hours af­ter smok­ing mar­i­juana, even though their THC blood level would reg­is­ter low.

“It’s not like al­co­hol, which is in and out of your sys­tem very quickly and we can reach a .08 level and agree on it … Be­cause it’s in your fat, it does stay in your sys­tem longer,” Sa­bet said.

For that rea­son, a more ef­fec­tive mea­sure of im­pair­ment would be an oral fluid screen­ing de­vice, which can de­tect re­cent use of cannabis but not the con­cen­tra­tion of THC, he said, com­bined with a be­havioural test such as the Stan­dard Field So­bri­ety Tests.

The gov­ern­ment is plan­ning to in­tro­duce oral screen­ing de­vices to de­ter­mine re­cent cannabis con­sump­tion and pro­vide rea­son­able grounds for a blood test. Cur­rently, oral screen­ing de­vices have not been ap­proved in Canada, but the feds are work­ing to have one ready by July 1, 2018, the day of cannabis le­gal­iza­tion. The pro­vin­cial laws are slated to take ef­fect shortly af­ter the fed­eral Bill C-46 be­comes law, likely in June or July 2018.

Kevin Tuong/for MeTro

Brian Mason, Al­berta trans­porta­tion min­is­ter, speaks at an an­nounce­ment on drug-im­paired driv­ing Tues­day.

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