RIDE program targets stoned drivers
Police at impaired-driving checkpoints this holiday season expect to smell a lot of pot smoke now that marijuana for recreational purposes is legal.
It’s a new challenge for police, one of many arising from the Trudeau government’s determination to drive criminals out of the black market for marijuana.
However, the Norfolk OPP caution motorists – even designated drivers – that they will be ticketed if they roll up to a RIDE checkpoint with smoke pouring out the windows.
“That’s a no- no,” Insp. Joe Varga, head of the Norfolk OPP, said at the formal launch of the 2018 Festive RIDE campaign in Simcoe on Nov. 22.
“You’re only allowed to have cannabis in a vehicle if it’s in a sealed container unavailable to the driver.”
Varga said it is only common sense that passengers can’t smoke marijuana in the presence of a driver.
Psychotropic chemicals are present in second-hand smoke that can interfere with a motorist’s ability to drive. The fine under the Cannabis Act for having unsealed marijuana available to a driver is $215.
Front-line officers have taken extra training in recent months to recognize the signs and symptoms of motorists driving under the influence of cannabis.
Most every officer on patrol is qualified to make this call. They will put drivers through a sobriety test before deciding whether they should be charged.
Bloodshot eyes that come with smoking marijuana, along with its distinctive smell, will trigger a simple test of balance, co-ordination and the ability to multi-task. If, in the officer’s estimation, the driver is impaired, they will be arrested and served with a court date.
“Drivers who consume cannabis and think they can avoid detection need to think again,” Varga said. “The OPP have a strong set of tools and skills that enable us to take alcohol- and drug- impaired drivers off the road. Driving under the influence is a serious offence. Not a drop, not a drag – say nope to dope.”
The OPP already have a lot of experience in this area. During last year’s Festive RIDE program, 29 drivers in Ontario were charged with drug impairment. The fines and penalties for driving stoned are the same for driving impaired under the influence of alcohol.
As with previous Festive RIDE programs, this one ends the day after New Year’s.
RIDE checkpoints in Norfolk and Haldimand nabbed a combined 13 impaired drivers last year.
During the last Festive RIDE program, the Norfolk OPP mounted 73 checkpoints. Checkpoints can appear anywhere at any time of the day without warning.
Even motorists who consider themselves responsible drinkers have to be alert. The OPP will levy three-day licence suspensions for motorists found driving with a blood-alcohol content between 50 milligrams and 80 milligrams per 100 millilitres of blood.
The OPP across Ontario charged 587 drivers with impaired during the holiday season last year. Motorists who encounter a suspected impaired driver on the road can alert the OPP by calling 911.
The Norfolk OPP’s annual Festive RIDE program was launched Nov. 22 in Simcoe and runs until Jan. 2. Among the first to pass through on the Queensway West in Simcoe was Daryl Dankwardt of Simcoe. At right is Insp. Joe Varga, chief of the Norfolk OPP.