Local police are gearing up for a shift in impaired driving enforcement.
Along with the passing of the Cannabis Act (Bill C-45), making marijuana legal in Canada starting October 17, Bill C-46 will allow police to conduct mandatory roadside screenings if they suspect the driver is under the influence of a drug.
The legislation has outlined three different scenarios depending on the driver's level of impairment on THC, the potent substance in Cannabis. If a driver is found to have between 2 nanograms (ng) and 5 ng of THC in their system they would be faced with a maximum $1000 fine. If found with more than 5 ng five nanograms of THC in their blood, the first offence would see a minimum maximum fine of $1,000 fine. A second offence would could result in mandatory imprisonment of 30 days, and a third and subsequent offender would could see up to 120 days behind bars.
However, Bill C-46 also introduces a hybrid impairment legislation that takes into account the increased impairment as a result of mixing cannabis and alcohol; if a driver is found with between 2.5 ng nanograms of THC and 50 milligrams or more of alcohol they would still see a charge of impaired driving.
While police are equipped with a standardized field sobriety test, Winkler Police Chief Ryan Hunt says they expect a new roadside screening device in the future. He explains officers would be able to take a sample of saliva to determine the level of THC in the driver's system. While the device has not been released in Canada, he says the early reports sound promising.
"All of the testing that has been done is very accurate," Hunt says, adding if someone has consumed Cannabis the day before, the instrument wouldn't register a the THC level above the legal limit.
He notes Bill C-46 also gives more teeth to the sentences attached to driving impaired by alcohol. Fines will increase depending on how far the offender is over the legal limit, up to $2,000. In the past the fines were capped at $1,000.
"Driving impaired in Canada is a problem," Hunt says, adding on average 3.5 people are killed every day in Canada in drug or alcohol related motor vehicle crashes.
"So it's encouraging to see the federal government working to try and prevent those deaths."
Hunt notes until October 17, police will continue to enforce the current laws regarding Cannabis. "Until the laws change we will still be enforcing them."