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Canadian Police Can Ask You to Take Field Sobriety Test: For Cannabis

Alt text: A cannabis leaf represents calm and peace to many, but can still lead to impaired driving and a field SOBRIETY test if you drive under the influence.Legalization is just around the corner, and many who enjoy Marijuana recreationally will be toking up without fear of police and punishment. With Justin Trudeau’s Liberals set to fulfill their election promise, and provinces debating the best ways to open the market to, and ultimately tax, marijuana, there are a number of concerns that still surround the legalization of pot and how the federal government addresses them could have a tremendous impact on how legalization of marijuana will occur. While many rejoice that there will be a better recreational option for party-goers, “Netflix and chillers”, stay at home parents and those simply seeking to unwind after a day at work, marijuana still affects one’s ability to function at full capacity, something that is well documented and is currently being addressed by the Canadian Justice Department.

The breathalyzer test is well known by both drivers and police forces all across Canada. The accuracy of the breathalyzer is often called into question, but it is regarded as accurate enough to prompt a police officer to make a decision on where a driver is spending the rest of their night if they suspect alcohol has been consumed. Debating whether or not a breathalyzer is accurate is worthwhile, but the fact that they exist no doubt has saved the lives of many drivers and bystanders alike, and with the legalization of marijuana seeming more and more inevitable, the Canadian Justice Department has now authorized the purchase and use of devices that can test an individual’s saliva to detect the use of cannabis. The device is set to be used by police officers who suspect someone behind the wheel has been smoking up, and is part of Bill C-46 which is considered one of the largest overhauls to Canada’s impaired driving laws.

The police now have the ability, if they suspect you may be under the influence of a substance, to administer a sobriety test looking for marijuana use as seen with this officer testing a driver he has just pulled over.The Canadian Society for Forensic Science has also given their stamp of approval for the device, which is now used in other western countries such as the United Kingdom and Germany, however critics have voiced a number of concerns concerning the device’s efficacy and specifically whether or not the device will perform as intended when administered during a harsh Canadian winter. Critics and non-critics alike will openly admit that the research into these devices is nowhere near that which exists for breathalyzers, and their concerns are justified given the Canadian government has already allocated almost 90 million dollars to this project nationwide.

Despite the skepticism surrounding the device, if it is proven to be both accurate and effective, it will be a welcome replacement to the current methods used by Canadian police which usually consist of a field sobriety test in which the individual suspected of drug use is asked to perform certain tasks such as walking on one foot or walking in a straight line, and if TV is in any way accurate, reciting the alphabet backwards three times fast (although, like so many things, TV probably got this one wrong).

A nurse swabs someone’s mouth for a saliva sample as part of a follow-up test looking for marijuana use after a police officer arrested them for driving under the influence of cannabis.Driving while under the influence of any substance is punishable by law in Canada should it be proven that the substance impaired one’s reflexes or decision making in a significant way, and with alcohol it is relatively straightforward how much is considered “impaired”. For years the blood alcohol limits have been studied and adjusted, and many factors have been taken into account as time has gone on, but with marijuana, things aren’t so simple. A bottle of alcohol, by law, states both the ingredients and percentage of alcohol within, but if like me you’ve ever joined in on some 420 shenanigans, it becomes obvious that your friend offering a toke hasn’t labeled the doobie with THC levels and a full ingredients list to speak to the authenticity and potency of the cannabis. The RCMP has admitted that this is more than a little concerning, and has advised Canadians to expect very strict enforcement of impaired driving laws when it comes to pot.

The government proposes the lower-level offence would apply to drivers who test between two and five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood. Drivers who test above five ng, or who test above 2.5 ng combined with a blood alcohol concentration above 50 milligrams per 100 mL, would receive the existing Criminal Code impaired driving penalties that mandate jail time for repeat convictions.

We live in exciting times, that is for sure, and while the effects of marijuana on the human body have been proven to be far less dangerous to our health than prolonged alcohol consumption, the fact remains that people smoke or consume weed for a reason. It gets us high, it changes how our brain interprets information and makes us feel different. It’s a welcome escape for many, and in the opinion of most Canadians deserves to be legal, but to ignore the steps being taken by the government of Canada to protect drivers and bystanders alike would be a big mistake. We should feel a little more secure about our decision as a country to legalize marijuana knowing that the proper precautions are being taken to protect both cannabis users and the public at large. That being said, the legalization of marijuana is a big step for Canada, especially if we think of all the wasted time and effort put in by our hard working men and women in blue, as well as our justice system. Time and time again marijuana has been shown to be a much healthier alternative for those seeking to relax or unwind compared to alcohol, cocaine, heroin and countless other substances, and with a proper transition into legality, Canadians will be benefiting for many years to come.

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