Listening to the current debate on the concerns surrounding the challenges that municipal police (and both the federal RCMP and the provincial OPP forces) face in dealing with drugged driving following the legalization of marijuana, one can’t help but wonder if the protagonists in these debates have been living under a rock since the 1960s.
There is absolutely no doubt that many of those who indulge in “the herb” wander behind the wheel shortly after smoking up. If ever there had been doubt, recent surveys of regular users of cannabis have certainly cleared up any lingering ambiguity in that regard. Far too many of those who use marijuana not only sit behind the wheel soon after smoking up, but firmly believe themselves to be better drivers. They are not.
The science is actually quite clear on the matter. What the science isn’t at all clear on is how long after smoking a driver is impaired or at what level of THC in the system a driver is actually impaired. Legal experts all agree on one thing—the current levels will be challenged in court.
But while all this does present challenges, it isn’t like these challenges have not been an issue long before legalization lifted its bleary head.
People have been smoking pot for a very long time. A lot of people. The actual number of those indulging in old Mary Jane is highly obscured by the fact that it has been illegal for generations, taking accurate information on the number of marijuana users deep underground. What is easily determined anecdotally is that those users include doctors, lawyers and, yes, even a significant number of ogimaas and mayors (along with every other type of politician).
“I didn’t inhale,” has long become a trope of political ridicule. The current prime minister has even admitted partaking at a friend’s party while a sitting member of the governing chamber.
So drugged driving is nothing new, nor are the challenges presented to law enforcement in dealing with the issue.
But, while conjecture abounds that legalization will lead to many more incidents of people driving while high, the experience of Colorado where pot has been legal for some time does not show any clear correlation between legalization and an increase in accidents. While impaired accidents have increased since legalization, that increase is not conclusively linked to pot consumption. But to be clear, the evidence also doesn’t show any correlation with a decrease in accidents either.
What is very clear, however, is that the smoking public does not fully recognize that they present a hazard on the road when they are under the influence of marijuana. Although the science does indicate that if people smoking up did believe that being high was dangerous when sitting behind the wheel, people would be better at judging their level of impairment than people whose ability to drive was impaired by alcohol.
In all of this debate one thing seems to be very clear. A major educational campaign must be implemented to both inform and educate the general population on the reality of the dangers of driving high. Further, information on the dangers of drugged driving must become an integral part of the provincial curriculum.
But to all the politicians and police officials wailing about the impending tsunami of drugged driving, please, stop pretending that this is a new phenomenon, it only hurts your credibility when trying to reach out to those members of the public who do (or did) inhale.