Handling of high drivers still being ironed out
OTTAWA—Days before recreational cannabis use becomes legal in Canada, federal officials acknowledge many details of the new regime have yet to be worked out, including how police will grapple with procedures for laying drug-impaired driving charges.
New impaired driving offences that took effect at the end of June set limits on how much THC, the primary psychoactive element in marijuana, a person can legally have in their system before they face penalties ranging from a $1,000 fine to a one-year driving suspension, to up to 120 days in jail.
But to prove the offences, the federal government says police will have to take blood samples within a two-hour window.
And, even before that, a specially trained officer will be required to get a suspected high driver out of their vehicle and administer preliminary tests.
So far, 833 local officers and 240 Mounties have been trained, short of the 2,000 the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police estimated would be needed to enforce the new laws.
Two provinces have not signed funding deals to receive some of the $81 million over five years to train officers on detecting drivers who are high—officials refused to say which ones—and officials suggest multiple police forces are still sorting out how to take blood samples. It is likely that urine samples will be used until procedures are worked out after legalization.
The law won’t distinguish between recreational and medicinal users, and officials warn that anyone getting behind the wheel of a car should do so long after using marijuana.
Possession of small amounts of cannabis for recreational use will become legal Oct. 17, fulfilling a high-profile campaign promise from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
Ahead of legalization, the Liberals are sending information cards to more than 15 million households, running ads and slipping notes into new passports about the rules around cannabis, hoping to avoid problems before they arise.
The government is spending $46 million over five years on the advertising campaign.
The government put a focus Friday on the new laws and awareness campaign during a media briefing from officials of Health Canada, the Justice Department, Public Safety Canada, the RCMP and the Canada Border Services Agency _ all of whom provided information on condition officials not be identified by name.
Anyone entering Canada will be asked to declare if they are carrying cannabis and, depending on the situation, they may be allowed to go free minus the pot in question.
However, it will still be illegal to take cannabis on international flights.
Border officials also say they have yet to receive clarity from American counterparts over whether someone who invests in a cannabis producer can be banned from entering the United States, which has strict federal laws on marijuana.
Anyone who works in the legal industry in Canada can be turned around at the U.S. border, and officials in that country have suggested they’ll view a cannabis investor in the same regard.
Also on Friday, Health Canada changed how it plans to calculate regulatory fees for cannabis sellers. It will use the previous year’s revenue to calculate the fee rather than forecasted revenue, which the agency says should moderate the financial hit in the early years of legalization.
Fees are also to be scaled to the size of the company.
The Liberals have budgeted $546 million over five years to license, inspect and enforce the new cannabis regime.