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How will legalized marijuana affect road safety?

Legalizing the sale and use of recreational marijuana was a central tenet of the platform that earned Canada’s Liberal Party a majority government in the last federal election. The policy has wide support among Canadians: according to a 2016 Nanos survey, around 43 per cent support the idea, and a further 26 per cent somewhat support it.

However, as the government prepares to table legislation, questions remain around the impact legalization could have on impaired driving rates. As car accident lawyers understand, driving under the influence of drugs produces similar results to drunk-driving, but presents unique challenges. In December, a federal task force said the government must take action to keep impaired drivers off the roads.

An important component of those efforts will be developing a reliable, breathalyzer-style test for marijuana. Today, officers who suspect a driver of being impaired can conduct standard roadside sobriety tests, and later call on a drug recognition expert with specialized training to confirm their suspicions. But from a car accident lawyers point of view, the lack of standardized testing tools produces legal grey areas.

“Drug-impaired driving is a problem, is a challenge, here in Canada today,” said Anne McLellan, the task force’s chair, told the CBC. “That is why the science is very quickly catching up. But are we there yet? No.”

RCMP, OPP, and other local law enforcement divisions are currently trialing roadside tests for marijuana in seven Canadian jurisdictions, and saliva tests have proven effective in Europe and Australia. Andy Murie, CEO of MADD Canada, believes drivers’ safety will depend on law enforcement deciding on and adopting a reliable tool to detect intoxication.

“If they don’t have the driving piece nailed down before you start retail sales of cannabis, you’re just going to kill a whole bunch more young people on the road,” he told the CBC.

This sentiment is also held by victims’ rights and road safety advocates, car accident lawyers, and law enforcement officials. Mario Harel, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, told the CBC that “there are still a lot of questions on how they are going to determine what impairment is for drivers.”

While legislation to legalize marijuana is expected this spring, the man leading the Liberal’s legalization efforts, former Toronto police chief Bill Blair, is in no rush to push retail sales.

“We will take as much time as it takes to do it right,” Blair told the Financial Post. “I’m pretty reluctant to suggest a specific time frame, frankly, because I don’t know how long this will take in each of our 10 provinces and three territories.”

Determining how to recognize and measure marijuana impairment and enforce strict penalties for driving under the influence must be central to the Liberals’ policy-making goals. Indeed, crafting tough guidelines will be necessary to ensure Canada’s impaired driving rates continue to decline.

If you or a member of your family has been hurt in a car accident, whether caused by impaired driver or any other means, contact the car accident lawyers at Will Davidson LLP today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation.

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