Sarah Leamon: Why would Trudeau government change cannabis-driving laws before the research is in?

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      On July 4, 2018, the federal government announced its plan to earmark nearly $1 million toward research on cannabis impaired driving.

      The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health is set to undertake a three-year study to determine, once and for all, how high a person has to be to be too high to drive.

      This announcement comes just three months shy of when Bill C-45 and Bill C-46 will take effect. Respectively, these bills will make recreational cannabis legal in Canada and will fundamentally alter our impaired driving laws as they relate to the drug.

      Bill C-46 will create a handful of new laws with respect to cannabis impaired driving. 

      For starters, it will allow police officers to use roadside oral-fluid screening devices to detect for the presence of drugs in a driver's body for the first time in this country. 

      It will also create a bevy of new offences for drug-impaired driving—specifically, cannabis-impaired driving. Drivers with two to five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood will face criminal charges, which could result in fines up to $1,000.

      Drivers with more than five nanograms—or with a combination of THC and alcohol— in their systems will face much harsher penalties under the new laws. 

      This means that drivers do not necessarily need to be impaired—or affected—by cannabis in order to be convicted of a criminal offence come October 17, 2018. Simply having a particular amount of THC in their body will be enough to brandish them as a criminal regardless of their physical symptomology. 

      Nobody really knows how high a person must be before it starts to affect driving skills.
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      Under these laws, medical marijuana users—and chronic recreational users, for that matter—could be unfairly punished and stigmatized as a result of their actions. This is even if they pose absolutely no threat or risk whatseover to public safety. 

      Many medical experts, forensic toxicologists, scientists, and lawyers have warned against this scheme. 

      They have pointed out that this is an untenable system, which has the potential to breach individual liberties and encroach upon charter-protected rights. But it also lacks scientific backing. 

      Unlike alcohol, THC is not metabolized by the human body in a consistent manner. 

      Variables like a user's tolerance level, the method in which they have consumed, and even their body mass index could affect how quickly THC either breaks down—or doesn’t—in their body. THC can stay in the body for weeks, and even months, after use. And long after a person has stopped feeling high. 

      But variables like these can also impact how high a person will get. 

      Depending on tolerance level and exposure to cannabis products, you might experience the same amount of marijuana in a completely different way than your friend. There’s no way to predict how one person might respond to a particular strain of cannabis or another, either.

      This means that the level of THC in a person’s body does not actually translate into how high they really are. Unfortunately, it’s a lot hazier than that.

      By allotting a large sum of money to research how high a driver needs to be to be too high to drive safely, the government appears to acknowledge this difficult reality. This should cause us to wonder why it would pass laws—with serious consequences—based on research that has yet to be completed.

      While it may be impossible to speak to the government’s motivation in doing so without speculating, it is possible to say that this particular facet of the bill seems irresponsible and short-sighted.      

      Instead of passing potentially unconstitutional criminal laws—without having properly conducted the scientific research to back them up—perhaps the government should have held off until it was in a better position to create meaningful, effective, and responsible legislation.

      After all, the $1 million that is now budgeted towards this research is likely to pale in comparison to the countless taxpayer dollars that will be spent on defending court challenges after Bill C-46 takes effect.