Drivers face tougher tests with legal marijuana

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Alex Bugeya of Frontline Commercial Vehicle Solutions

MILTON, Ont. – Cross-border truck drivers who already face drug screening are not the only ones who face restrictions under Canada’s new framework for legalized recreational marijuana.

Impaired driving rules have been refined at federal and provincial levels, said Alex Bugeya of Frontline Commercial Vehicle Solutions, during a presentation hosted by the Private Motor Truck Council of Canada (PMTC).

The federal government has set limits for criminal charges, testing standards, the authority of police, and criminal penalties. But Ontario has also introduced lower-level administrative penalties under the Ontario Highway Traffic Act – including zero tolerance for commercial drivers.

“They obviously wanted to strengthen what happened at roadside,” Bugeya said of the strengthened federal rules in Bill C46. Law enforcement teams no longer require probable grounds like a driver’s slurred speech or dilated pupils before following up with a blood test. He expects that to play a role in tests conducted after any collisions.

The federal bill also established new testing thresholds, similar to the well-known 0.08 Blood Alcohol Content limit used to identify impaired drivers. For THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, federal limits were set at between two and five nanograms per millilitre (ng/ml) for a summary offence, with higher levels generating a criminal charge. So, too, is there a criminal impaired driving offence for those found with more than 2.5 ng/ml of THC in their blood and a BAC of more than .05.

The challenge is telling people what amount of the substance will trigger those readings. “I can’t tell you if that’s one gummy bear,” he said as an example, referring to edible marijuana products.

But Ontario has essentially banned traces of marijuana or alcohol in commercial drivers – up to a point.

Alcohol screening devices have been set at .01 BAC to screen out substances like cough syrup, he said. “What I’m hearing is it’s closer to .02 because of the way the devices are calibrated.” Those with a prescription for cannabis are also exempted from the province’s zero-tolerance rules, but still bound by the federal limits.

Bugeya also referred to one amendment that was intended for RV users but might be tested by those who drive trucks. “Vehicles and boats with sleeping accommodations and cooking facilities which are parked and anchored,” he explained.

Then again, trucks tend to be viewed as a workplace, where marijuana can’t be consumed.

For those users who simply want to move related products in vehicles, he noted that the Cannabis Act requires the substances to be in baggage that is fastened shut.

“The whole other side of this is the employment health and safety side,” Bugeya said.

Many of those rules continue to evolve.

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John G. Smith is the editorial director of Newcom Media's trucking and supply chain publications -- including Today's Trucking,, TruckTech, Transport Routier, and Road Today. The award-winning journalist has covered the trucking industry since 1995.

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