The promise of legal marijuana by July 1, 2018 appears to have gone up in a puff of smoke. The federal government has manufactured a crisis of drug-impaired driving that has led to the delay in the implementation of the Liberal government’s promise to legalize recreational marijuana.
I say "manufactured" because the crisis upon which they are relying to delay this does not exist.
Don’t get me wrong – drug impaired driving is a real concern and there is an appropriate and legitimate purpose for our government to be thinking about enforcement and tackling this issue. The problem is that it is not the crisis the government is making it out to be.
People who are impaired by drugs are already driving high. Just look at the results of a recent survey, which found that 39% of people are willing to admit to driving within two hours of having smoked marijuana. And it is not like people aren’t using marijuana simply because it is illegal. A recent article in Macleans suggests that the numbers are not going to skyrocket once there is legalization.
Take into account the fact that those who are not doing it because it is illegal are probably just as likely to respect the law when it comes to marijuana and driving.
And those who are using marijuana are not young people. Instead, use is down among young people and up among the older population, who are also, given the recent article, statistically less likely to drive after using marijuana. Which means that there is not likely to be a sudden spike in impaired driving incidents.
What there is likely to be is a sudden spike in enforcement.
This decision is funded not by common sense but by dollars and cents. The cost of enforcement is enormous, and the police are woefully under-trained and under-equipped to handle the issue. That’s the real issue here: the police want to delay legalization because they need to train more officers.
What this really tells us all is that marijuana legalization is going to end what has been a culture of see-no-evil when it comes to marijuana impaired driving. As a society, we have put on blinders and pretended that this is an issue that does not affect drivers simply because we have outlawed the plant. If it is illegal to have it, then no one will use it before driving.
We are losing out on a valuable opportunity for our country because of a made up crisis that, if it really was real, we should have been addressing all along. I do not blame the police for this. Or the government. I think everyone shares blame. It’s very easy to ignore a problem and pretend it does not need a solution when there is an issue of distraction by saying “marijuana is an illegal drug.”
But even if I am wrong, and there is a so-called marijuana impaired driving crisis on our horizon, is it really all that much of a crisis?
I say not.
First of all, scientific research has suggested that the legalization of marijuana will actually lead to an overall decrease in traffic fatalities. In one study, a 9% decrease was noted in a jurisdiction with legal marijuana, which researchers connected to the decrease in alcohol consumption associated with legal pot. Cannabis Culture has compiled a helpful resource with links to dozens of studies supporting the fact that there is no causal connection between marijuana impairment and death and carnage on the roadways. You can review it here.
Never mind the fact that there is no scientific correlation between blood THC concentration and impairment of driving ability. Particularly since THC is stored in fat cells, and as fat cells break down it is released. People who have completely abstained from marijuana for weeks after being chronic users have been reported to have elevated blood THC concentrations when they begin to lose weight.
But what about the fact that we have all but decriminalized impaired driving in the west?
In British Columbia, we decriminalized alcohol-impaired driving in 2010. No one has cried foul – claiming that the decision to implement the IRP scheme puts people’s lives at risk. And now, Alberta is following suit. So impaired driving isn’t such a big deal that we need to make it a criminal offence. Well, not until it comes to having 2 ng of THC in your blood. In that case, the government doesn’t consider it criminal but they are nevertheless criminalizing it because it’s safer to make something a crime than think rationally about it.
So we are losing legal weed as a promise for Canada day this year. Bummer.
But there’s a bright side to all of this, of course. The Government is still moving full-steam ahead on pushing through its poorly-thought-out, ill-conceived, and totally unconstitutional laws to address this problem of impaired driving.
But if we believe the government, the only time drug-impaired driving will be a problem is once we legalize marijuana. I guess we’ll be ready for when it ever does happen. But at this point, it’s looking unlikely.
Vancouver Criminal Lawyer with a focus on impaired driving, cannabis legalization and related issues, and immediate roadside prohibition defence.