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Along with the announcement that the government will introduce legislation in the spring of 2017 to legalize marijuana in Canada comes the announcement that a UBC professor has developed a device that can help detect stoned drivers.  Driving impaired, whether it is from the consumption of alcohol or the use of marijuana is dangerous.  The law has come a long ways in the efforts to keep drunk drivers off the road, both by creating a culture where it is unacceptable, developing technology to detect drunk driving and policing efforts deter drunk driving.  The same will have to take place with marijuana if we want to keep our roads in BC as safe as possible.

A review of 60 studies presented in 1995 at the International Conference on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety found that marijuana impairs all of the cognitive abilities needed for safe driving, including tracking, motor coordination, visual function and divided attention.   There is however, no consensus on whether driving while high is actually dangerous.  Previous studies have suggested that marijuana use may impair coordination and reaction abilities.   Other studies have found that driving while stoned showed no significant change in the risk of being involved in a crash.  Recently an experiment was conducted in Washington state where they tested the driving abilities of three volunteers who were high.  The test results led to the conclusion that it took the subjects’ smoking nearly a gram of pot before the driving instructor deemed them unfit to drive.  This would support the assertion that driving while stoned is less dangerous than driving drunk.

Driving while your ability is impaired, regardless of the degree of impairment, obviously leads to the increased possibility of car crashes.  Expect that law enforcement and other interested stakeholders such as ICBC will take steps to control the culture around driving while high and to develop technologies that will detect the presence of marijuana to enable policing to deter high driving.  The current Criminal Code prohibits driving while impaired by drug, but there is no legal limit specified.  In 2008 the Criminal Code was amended to authorize police to demand field sobriety testing if they suspect drug use.  Drug impairment tests to date however have been found by the courts to be a poor indicator of impairment, which has resulted than fewer than 1000 charges being laid each year for drug impairment while each year there are 50,000 charges for impaired driving.  The new device developed at UBC may change that.  According to developers, the device will allow police to determine within seconds whether a person is impaired.

This is an area where we are likely to see significant developments and changes.  The legalization of marijuana will carry with it the development and sophistication of testing and implementation of new laws to help keep all users of our roads safe.