Tuesday July 17, 2018
Canada’s criminal justice system is increasing the severity of penalties for impaired driving.
To accompany the legalization of marijuana, the new impaired driving laws introduce defined limits for THC usage. However, the most controversial aspects of the new law gives officers more power to identify impaired drivers. Experts argue that the new laws jeopardize civil rights and are unconstitutional. Regardless of these concerns, the laws have passed Royal Assent and come into effect in October.
Previously, officers were required to have “reasonable suspicion of impaired driving”. With the introduction of the new laws in October, officers will now be able to pull over any vehicle and demand a breathalyser test from the driver.
With that in mind, Canadians should know, refusing the test is an offense under the criminal code and results in a criminal record. Penalties include:
Therefore, even if you have zero alcohol in your system, you could end up with a criminal record.
In addition to increased power for police enforcement, Bill C-46 will set specific limits on the amount of THC you can legally have in your blood while driving. The bill also sets out penalties, including fines, vehicle suspension and jail time up to 10 years.
Previously, there was no specified limit on how much THC you could have in your blood while driving, which there is for alcohol. Police officers have always been able to request a drug evaluation for someone who failed a field sobriety test, but because there were no set limits on THC consumption, drugged driving charges were rare and often thrown out of court. With the inclusion of Bill C-46, it’s expected that offences for driving under the influence of cannabis will rise dramatically.
Once the bill is in effect, police will be able to pull drivers over for suspicion of impairment (including just the smell of marijuana), and will use either a standard field sobriety test, or an oral fluid test, which involves swabbing saliva off your tongue to determine if you have THC in your system. If you fail either of these, they can request a blood test, which will reveal the actual blood concentration level of THC. According to the new laws a blood test can be requested at roadside or at a station.
Concerns around the sterility of these tests have been raised both for drivers and for the police officers conducting the test.
What could it cost you? Under these new laws, if you are determined to have at least two nanograms of THC but less than five in your system, you’re likely to face up to $1,000 in fines and a summary conviction. While still a legal penalty, a summary conviction is not a criminal offence and will not show up on an employment or passport check.
More severe punishment will result for those with more than five nanograms in their system, likely resulting in a combination of fines, a driving ban or jail time, with a maximum of up to ten years.
In some provinces, there is also a minimum age for use, as well as a zero tolerance policy for certain drivers. In Ontario for example, a separate law dictates that young, novice or commercial drivers won’t be permitted to have any cannabis present in their body behind the wheel. This includes drivers age 21 and under, those with a G1, G2, M1 or M2 licence, or anyone driving a vehicle that requires a Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR). The penalties for violating this will be similar, including possible license suspension, fines, jail time or even mandatory treatment in a substance abuse program.
Naturally, not everyone feels positive about these new changes. Some critics anticipate it will encourage police to pull people over at random. Others feel it’s an unnecessary infringement on their privacy, especially those who use marijuana for medical reasons.
Additionally, some professionals have noted that THC is absorbed differently than alcohol. THC is stored in fat cells in such a way that allows it to break down over time. This could mean that long after smoking or ingesting THC, you might still have a somewhat elevated THC level, which would show up in a blood test. For this reason, some professionals believe the bill could unfairly criminalize certain users.
And, while it sets out a specific limit for acceptable levels, it’s difficult to confirm whether or not those levels determine true impairment in various individuals. This means, regardless of what type of user you are, it’s best to avoid any usage at all before heading out on the road. Otherwise, you could be at risk of facing criminal charges.
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