Canada’s looming legalization of cannabis is creating a conundrum for Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO).
Late last year, the province announced a zero-tolerance approach to impaired driving for commercial license holders. Anyone behind the wheel of a commercial vehicle cannot have drugs or alcohol in their system, if they want to keep their license.
The problem is that cannabis impairment cannot be measured the same as impairment from alcohol. Joe Lynch, a professional engineer with the MTO, explained the provincial approach to determining impairment, during Truck World, held in Mississauga, Ont.
Ironically, Lynch delivered his Truck World speech on April 20th — a day marked for celebration by potheads around the world.
“It’s very complex, even just in the medical (cannabis) world, now we’re talking recreational,” Lynch said.
Lack of measurement
With alcohol, impairment is measurable through blood alcohol content (BAC). At 0.05 BAC, a driver is considered impaired. BAC will generally return to zero after 12 hours. However, the psychoactive ingredients in marijuana filters through its user’s body over a four to six-week period, making it difficult to determine impairment via a measurement system.
Lynch explained a person could ingest cannabis on a Friday, and it could still be found in their saliva the following Monday.
“You can’t just throw a number at marijuana,” Lynch said. “Cannabis products; the way they digest in your body is completely different than alcohol.”
Furthermore, the federal government hasn’t approved a screening device for marijuana impairment.
“It’s all based on the saliva test, and right now it doesn’t work,” he said.
Determining when the driver is operating under their commercial license is also an issue with creating the right legislation. Lynch said there has yet to be a definition of commercial driver established.
“Is it a commercial driver who is driving a commercial vehicle at the time? that would make sense, but what about a farmer driving an F350 with a trailer behind it?” he said. “Say he’s driving to church, without the trailer, when he’s not working. It’s his personal vehicle that day.”
Medical marijuana users are also clouding how enforcement will be determined.
Lynch explained cannabis use requires three or four days of use before it delivers relief from pain. As well, more and more people are switching from prescription drugs to cannabis products.
“It’s not so easy when you have a zero-tolerance law,” he said.
For anyone involved with fleet management and safety, Lynch recommends talking to a lawyer and your insurance company for advice on cannabis consumption.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re covered on both sides. Insurance can be your friend when they’re giving advice on this,” he said.
“If you have a catastrophic claim, at least your insurance company knows you talked to them beforehand and consulted with them.”
With a provincial election on the horizon, Lynch explained marijuana will likely be recreationally legal before a law, and possibly a new government, is in place.
“We have to do something, and we have to do something quick,” Lynch said.
“It’s a very big piece of heavy policy. It’s going to be complicated.”