New laws for driving under the influence of cannabis

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Laws regarding driving under the influence have been updated as the legalization of recreational cannabis approaches.

As of June 21, there are new rules regarding drug-impaired driving ahead of marijuana being legalized in October.

Bonnyville RCMP Cst. Maxim Cyr said there are a number of signs officers look for to confirm their suspicions of impairment.

“If a police officer comes over to the window and there was no indication in the driving pattern, but they smell marijuana coming out of the vehicle, and the driver has red blood shot-eyes and is showing signs of intoxication of marijuana,” he explained.

The officer would have reasonable grounds to suspect the presence of the drug in a person’s body, and can read a demand requiring the driver to take a field sobriety test.

“If the person fails those standardized field sobriety tests, what’s going to happen is they will be placed under arrest for operating a motor vehicle while their ability to do so was impaired by the drug,” detailed Cyr.

From there, they will be brought to an evaluating officer who will have them go through a drug recognition evaluation to determine if their ability to operate a vehicle is impaired.

Officers use the person’s heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, pupil size and reaction to light, and muscle tone to figure out what drug is in their system.

“Under light, their pupils are going to be producing what’s called a rebound dilation. It’s quite interesting to see when the pupil is exposed to direct light in their eye, the pupil’s going to contract normally like a sober person’s, but after that, it’s going to start to dilate in a pulse,” Cyr explained.

Physical tests are also used, including finger to nose, standing on one foot, and walking heel-to-toe in a straight line.

Once an officer determines the drug is in the person’s system, a demand will be read to subject them to a chemical test, which will be analyzed to confirm impairment.

Bonnyville RCMP Sgt. Sarah Parke, acting detachment commander, said a training course on how to conduct field sobriety tests has always been in existence. In order to get more RCMP members certified before the legalization of cannabis in October, the program has been expanded.

“Essentially, the field sobriety testing allows the members to do the equivalent of the device that we currently use for alcohol,” she explained. “Learning these field sobriety tools of the trade is what’s going to help us to enforce impaired by drugs driving investigations.”

One change in the legislation is allowing officers to use oral fluid drug screeners during traffic stops.

“They’re in the process of getting a roadside screening device approved to test for the presence of illicit drugs,” Cold Lake RCMP S/Sgt. Landry explained. “But, we haven’t received those devices yet, and I’m not sure at what stage they’re at in the testing process.”

Cyr believes there will be equipment created to test for marijuana, but the evaluation process is how they’re currently determining if someone is under the influence of any drug.

As part of the legalization of cannabis, three new criminal code offences have been introduced, specifically relating to driving a motor vehicle within two hours of consuming a prohibited drug.

Levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) at two nanograms but less than five nanograms per milliliter of blood can result in a fine up to $1,000.

While the second offence for having five nanograms or more of THC per milliliter of blood comes with a mandatory fine of $1,000 for a first offence, a 30-day jail sentence for a second offence, and 120-days imprisonment for third and subsequent offences could result in

The same punishments are in place for anyone found to have a combination of 50 milligrams of alcohol per milliliter of blood and 2.5 nanograms or more of THC per one milliliter of blood. This offence will be used when a positive alcohol test comes back in conjunction with a positive drug test result.

The new legislation authorizes officers to demand an oral fluid sample to test for drug presence during a roadside stop. They may pursue a drug recognition of evaluation, or take a blood sample if they receive a positive result from the fluid sample. Police officers trained in the drug recognition and evaluation are able to present opinion-based evidence on the impairment of the driver without having to be qualified as an expert witness each time.

Landry said regardless of whether you’re impaired by alcohol or cannabis, driving while impaired puts not only your life, but other’s lives at risk.

“It’s extremely dangerous,” he expressed. “Not just to yourself, and other occupants in the vehicle, but other users of the roadway. The science and the statistics are clear, no matter what you’re impaired by, if you’re operating a motor vehicle it’s extremely dangerous. It’s no different than being impaired by alcohol or marijuana, the danger is significant. For the safety of everyone, it’s imperative that people drive in a sober state.”

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