So far, the NDP government hasn't faced any serious criticism from opposition MLAs in its efforts to amend the Motor Vehicle Act in response to the federal legalization of cannabis.
But near the end of a debate over Bll 17 on May 8, Solicitor General Mike Farnworth expressed serious concerns about how some B.C. residents will be treated entering the U.S. if they truthfully answer a border guard's question.
In particular, he's worried about the potential of ordinary citizens being denied access to the United States as a result of doing something legal in Canada: consuming cannabis.
"They potentially could have their vehicle seized, fines, you name it," Farnworth said.
He suggested that the same thing could occur if they're returning to Canada from the United States.
"What is it going to mean, for example, if you have a business that does a lot of work in the U.S., and you have an employee that's going down there and, on their own time, they're doing something, again, that is perfectly legal in Canada, perfectly legal in Washington state, but at the border, it's not?" Farnworth asked.
"There are some very important, unanswered questions, in terms of you as a private individual, or you as a business—whether it's a small business or a large business," he continued.
Farnworth emphasized that these issues have been brought to the attention of the U.S. consulate and officials at "the highest levels" in Washington. And he maintained that "they have absolutely zero interest in dealing with the problems that are going to arise."
"They have told us that in no uncertain terms," he stated.
Bill 17 allows roadside suspensions for cannabis
When Bill 17 was introduced into the legislature on April 26, Farnworth said it will "provide a strong foundation to deter drug-affected driving and increase safety on B.C. roads".
"One significant change in this bill would restrict new drivers, those in the graduated licensing program, from operating a motor vehicle with any THC in their system," Farnworth stated at the time. "Another important change will establish a new 90-day administrative driving prohibition for drivers who operate a motor vehicle while affected by a drug or a combination of a drug and alcohol."
On May 8, the bill sailed through second reading and will go to the committee of the whole today.
In yesterday's debate, the B.C. Liberal MLA for Richmond-Steveston, John Yap, said that he's glad that the bill allows police to impose immediate roadside prohibitions on those suspected of being high on cannabis.
"I see that there will be in the legislation an evaluation officer, who will be the expert, who will, at roadside checks, be able to ascertain, based on training and expertise, if a driver is under the influence of THC," Yap noted.
But he also questioned how this might affect people who don't use cannabis but are exposed to it when they're socializing.
"How will we ensure that someone who has been in a room where there's a lot of use of cannabis, a smoke-filled room—and then is a designated driver, for example—and drives friends home, and then is, you know, facing a roadside check?" Yap stated. "How does that work out? How would that work out? We want to ensure that people are treated fairly."
The B.C. Liberal MLA for Columbia River-Revelstoke, Doug Clovechok said he supports the intention of Bill 17.
"To begin with, I'm relieved that the government is taking this as seriously as they are," he stated. "I think even the most passionate of marijuana advocates would be open and understand that it's dangerous to get behind the wheel impaired on any substance, including marijuana, and that certainly does impair drivers."
Clovechok also criticized the federal government for "rushing forward on this process without giving the provinces the tools and the money" to deal with the ramifications of legalization.
"The concern I have is that I hope police departments and detachments across the province will be given all the testing equipment and training to use it as soon as possible," he added. "I think it's incumbent on any government in this country, including, obviously, the one here in British Columbia, to make sure that every police member in this province is trained so they are clear about what they can do, and they're clear about what they cannot do with the new scenarios that marijuana is going to present to them on a daily basis as they're out in the field working."
At the same time, he described the RCMP as "a force that always is ahead of the curve, but they're still going to need help".
One MLA raises question about "sketchy science"
The B.C. Liberal MLA for West Vancouver-Capilano, Ralph Sultan, readily conceded that he's not an expert on this issue.
"I will confess up front that my knowledge of cannabis and motor vehicles relates to a Cheech and Chong movie I saw about 30 years ago, as a van which seemed to be fabricated from marijuana plants was driving across the border between Mexico and California and somehow caught on fire, which in turn, caused the entire border guard staff to become, shall we say, impacted," Sultan said. "Anyways, it was a great flick."
But despite his professed ignorance, he zeroed in section 3(c)(2.1)(b), which allows a peace officer to take action with "reasonable grounds to believe, as a result of the analysis, that the driver has a prescribed drug in his or her body".
Sultan suggested that this would allow enforcement actions without even a molecule of the substance being physically detected.
"In other words, we begin now to arbitrarily set measurement limits—but, I rather suspect, on the basis of somewhat sketchy science," Sultan said.
The West Vancouver-Capilano MLA also acknowledged that Farnworth has been thrown a "curveball" by the feds.
"I think our solicitor general has been forced to take on this complex assignment based upon some political promises made in another jurisdiction, the federal government in Ottawa, which seems bound and determined to make the distribution and consumption of cannabis legal, if my reading of the popular press is accurate, sometime in July—in other words, about ten weeks from now. Ten weeks from now, we're expected to have a fully functioning legal apparatus for the control and safe conduct of traffic on our streets and surrounded by the uncertainties I've already alluded to."
Farnworth replied that his colleague from West Vancouver "is absolutely correct".
"This legislation is required because of decisions being made in Ottawa," the solicitor general said. "We have to have it in place even though we don't know yet what the final bill that Ottawa is going to pass will actually look like."
At the same time, Farnworth said that he's "pleased" at the amount of training that's taken place for those who will enforce the law on the roads.