Liberals introduce stoned driving law

On April 24, 2004, the Liberal government introduced invasive new “drugged driving” laws that would allow cops to further persecute the marijuana community, despite science that shows pot can make drivers safer.
The bill was introduced by the Paul Martin-appointed justice minister, Irwin Cotler, who claimed the bill is necessary given that Canada will likely decriminalize pot, and follows an American model. Early last year, the Canadian government considered other, more constitutionaly-sound, made-in-Canada approaches. For example, an October 2003 report by a Canadian government committee suggested establishing legal limits on how much marijuana a person could have in their system before being “over the limit.” The report also bemoaned the lack research into what a legal limit might be, and how it could be tested. Then it took a look at the American model, one that has Canadian lawyers braced for a round of constitutional challenges.

The reason the American model is so controversial is that it relies on the questionable judgment – or should we say “prejudices” – of a police officer instead of a scientific test. Under the proposed law, cops who were supposedly trained to recognize drug impairment through training in a US program would have the power to force drivers to take a roadside test. The problem is that police who don’t like your bumper stickers, the way you are dressed, your hair style, or the colour of your skin, could submit you to a drug test. Furthermore, the test wouldn’t say whether you were impaired, it would only tell whether you had pot in your system and pot stays in your system for days after you smoke it. So even unimpaired drivers might be charged and convicted for drugged driving, on the flimsiest of pretenses. Canadians might also be encouraged to use cocaine or other drugs which are harder, but which don’t last in the system as long.

A campaign to prepare Canadians for this legislation has been assaulting the national psyche for months. Ads at the beginning of rented videos claim deaths from driving on marijuana, and some news agencies have jumped on the bandwagon. Meanwhile, numerous scientific studies have shown that regular recreational doses of marijuana actually improve driving performance. The reason for the confusion is a commonly exploited logical fallacy that the government is using to demonize the weed.

“Simply having marijuana in your system when you get into an accident is not enough to determine whether being high caused the accident,” explained a sympathetic statistician, who nonetheless wished to remain anonymous. “It’s a correlation, but it doesn’t prove cause-and-effect. For example, if they pulled you from the wreck of a car and pumped your stomach and found jelly-doughnuts, it would hardly prove that jelly doughnuts caused your accident. If it did, we’d have to arrest all the cops for impaired driving. In fact, the science shows a high probability that stoned Canadians get into less accidents than straight ones.”

Cops in BC have already been trained in the US drug-impairment recognition courses, but are so far unable to do more than coerce, manipulate and trick drivers into taking a drug test.

Should an election be called in the spring, both the decriminalization and drugged driving bills would fail, as they wouldn’t have time to pass through parliament. During the upcoming election, cannabis canadians in Justice Minister Cotler’s riding would do well to take him to task for such a blatant attempt to persecute millions of his fellow Canadians with an unjust law. Politicians should either develop scientific methods of testing drug impairment levels or leave potheads alone.

Media stories on the UK driving study:
UK Times: Cannabis May Make You A Safer Driver
Ottawa Citizen: Researchers Say Pot Makes Drivers Safer

Media stories on the UK drugged driving roadside test:
Reuters: British Police Plan New Drug Tests For Drivers
Irish Independent: Drug Test Drivers To Walk The Line

1983 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study: Stein, AC et al., A Simulator Study of the Combined Effects of Alcohol and Marijuana on Driving Behavior-Phase II, Washington DC: Department of Transportation (1983)

1992 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study: The Incidence and Role of Drugs in Fatally Injured Drivers, by K.W. Terhune, et al. of the Calspan Corp. Accident Research Group in Buffalo, NY (Report # DOT-HS-808-065)

1993 National Highway Transportation Safety Administration study: Marijuana and actual Driving Performance, By Hindrik WJ Robbe and James F O’Hanlon. Institute for Human Psychopharmacology, University of Limburg

1998 University of Adelaide and Transport South Australia study: