Earlier this year, the Minister of Health, Jane Philpott, announced plans for the legalization of marijuana across Canada by 2017. In a speech to the United Nations, Philpott noted that while the move was certainly not conventional, she believed it was the best way to protect youth and enhance public safety.
A task force was launched in July, with the aim of designing a system and laying out how exactly the process of legalizing marijuana will work. The task force hopes to enlist the opinions of the provincial and territorial governments, key experts and the general public. Health Canada will also work to develop a new regime for the regulation and control of marijuana with support from the Justice & Public Safety. So what do these potential changes mean for motorists?
While the details are still being ironed out, the consensus is that like alcohol, there will be an age requirement for when an individual can legally possess marijuana. Although the age to legally purchase alcohol is 19 in most provinces, and 18 in Quebec, Alberta, and Manitoba, there has been some disagreement in the appropriate age for the purchase of marijuana. Some decision makers recommend that this is a decision for the provinces to make, as in the case of alcohol. However, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) recommends a minimum age of at least 21. In fact, the CMA contends that the risks from marijuana use are elevated until the brain fully matures and a person’s development is typically finalized by the age of 25, so this is actually an ideal minimum when considering current scientific evidence (CTV News, “CMA: Legal pot needs strict rules minimum age of 21”, Sept 8, 2016).
In addition to legislating a minimum age for possession of marijuana, the CMA also recommends the following practices:
Whether or not you believe the legalization of marijuana is a positive step forward or that it will do more harm than good, the risks of marijuana use while driving is indisputable. The fact is, marijuana use, like alcohol, continues to be a frequent cause of road accidents across Canada.
According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, a recent Ontario study revealed that marijuana was the most common illegal drug present among drivers involved in fatal car accidents and in some cases, the use of marijuana exceeded the use of alcohol.
MADD Canada notes that according to population surveys, the number of Canadians driving after using drugs, including marijuana, is actually on the rise, rather than declining. Regarding young drivers, a 2013 report by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health showed that among Ontario drivers in Grades 10 – 12, 4 percent drove after drinking as opposed to 9.7 percent who drove after smoking marijuana. More troubling was a national study by the Partnership for a Drug-Free Canada, which revealed and that many young drivers and their parents do not believe that marijuana was particularly dangerous and thought it safer than driving under the influence of alcohol.
Multiple medical experts have challenged this perception by stressing that like alcohol, marijuana impairs one’s psychomotor skills, which are clearly very important for driving, particularly when reacting to emergency situations. Marijuana also slows down a person’s reaction time, alters the perception of time and distances, and reduces the attention span.
So what will these new laws, if implemented, mean for the safety of motorists? As noted above, like alcohol, even if recreational marijuana is legalized, its use and sale will be heavily regulated, including the continued criminalization of driving while under its influence. And until the new laws are implemented, the use of recreational marijuana is still a crime that carries the same fines and legal consequences.
At Burn Tucker Lachaîne, we urge everyone to always be vigilant on the side of safety when driving. And that includes never driving while under the influence of alcohol and/or any types of drugs, including marijuana. All too often, we have seen where a momentary lapse in judgement has, in the blink of an eye, resulted in catastrophic and tragic consequences for drivers, passengers, and other road users.
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