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MADD targets drivers who use marijuana

By Brendan Burke [1]

BELLEVILLE – Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada [2] is shifting gears to take aim at people who drive under the influence of marijuana.

The move comes ahead of the federal government’s planned legalization and regulation [3] of pot.

While Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government grapples with the legal and technological logistics of curbing pot use by drivers, the non-profit organization isn’t taking the prospect of increased impaired-driving rates lightly.

MADD – an organization that for decades has championed awareness of the consequences of drinking and driving – is now running a public-service advertisement underscoring the risks associated with driving and drug use.

While the shift in focus is part of a national campaign, Quinte’s MADD chapter [4] is following suit in its bid to educate the public ahead of the tentative spring 2017 rollout of the legalization of marijuana.

In an email to QNet News, MADD Quinte’s president Allen Magee outlined the group’s response to evolving weed laws – which not only targets impaired motorists, but the laws that are in place to detect them, too.

Magee said that with the government’s clear intent to legalize marijuana, a complete revamp of the current roadside detection program is necessary.

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MADD Canada wants oral fluid drug testing to replace current “ineffective” roadside evaluations ahead of pot legalization. Photo by Brendan Burke

“Our current system already does a poor job of catching drug-impaired drivers.”

Citing recent statistics, Magee said the current model – which grants police officers the authority to conduct standard field sobriety tests and drug recognition evaluations – doesn’t do enough to ensure impaired pot users are off the road, as charges rarely result in convictions.

“In 2012, just 1.9 per cent of all impaired driving charges were for drugs. That’s just 1,126 out of nearly 60,000 total charges,” he stated.

With a precedent-setting overhaul of pot laws looming, Magee said the problem will intensify without the implementation of new measures.

“The situation will only worsen if marijuana is legalized before the proper laws and tools are in place to better catch and charge drug-impaired drivers.”

Adding measures like roadside oral fluid tests [5], he said, will give law enforcement the tools needed to combat the potential rise in drug-impaired driving cases.

“The technology…is already available. It has been adopted in several Australian states and Western European countries where it has proven to be effective and cost efficient,” Magee wrote.

On a local level, MADD Quinte’s volunteer co-ordinator Frances Charleton said residents can expect a push for awareness beginning in October.

“We will be getting out there and setting up displays,” she said.

While Charleton admits the government’s decision has left the organization with little time to strategize, she said MADD Quinte is committed to tackling the issue.

“It’s certainly a problem and it needs to be addressed.”

Concerns about drug intoxication behind the wheel aren’t new, but a leaked document [6] has prompted pressure to act. Citing increased rates of impaired driving in U.S. states that have recently legalized marijuana – like Colorado and Washington – the document says the federal justice minister [7] is being cautioned that pot-friendly laws could result in a similar outcome here in Canada.

According to the file, Colorado saw a 32 per cent jump in marijuana-related traffic deaths within the first year of legalization.

On local law enforcement’s end, Quinte West Ontario Provincial Police has echoed MADD’s concerns.

“It’s as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol,” Constable David Ludington told QNet News.

MADD Quinte plans to address its action plan when members convene for a meeting on Oct. 5.

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Changing lanes: while drunk driving rates have declined steadily among youth in Canada, marijuana impairment has reached a new high. Source: MADD Canada.

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