MONTREAL, Que. — The federal government has promised to legalize marijuana this year, as early as July 1, but more likely this fall. No matter when it comes, there will be challenges for the trucking industry – particularly when it comes to testing regimes.
The Senate of Canada is in the midst of studying Bill C-45, which would legalize access, as well as control and regulate how the drug is grown, distributed, and sold. Conservative Senator Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu, who sits on the senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, sat down with Transport Routier (Today’s Trucking’s sister publication) to discuss implications for trucking.
Transport Routier: Senator Boisvenu, could you at the outset distinguish between the legalization and decriminalization of cannabis?
Pierre-Hughes Boisvenu: Currently, possession of marijuana is illegal. It’s also illegal to trade it.
The Conservative party was more in favor of decriminalization. It ensures that a person caught with cannabis would face a fine rather than a criminal prosecution that could lead to a criminal record. It’s like a ticket for speeding. There is no criminal charge. You just have to pay the ticket. Decriminalization would free up courthouses and people with marijuana from having no criminal record.
The bill goes much further by legalizing possession, sale, and distribution, and it is up to each province to decide what it will do in terms of sales and distribution. What we fear with legalization is what Colorado has experienced. We had the advice to take the time to do it right, to make sure, for example, that the police forces are ready, that there is a harmonization in the regulations of the various jurisdictions because, when the regulations differ, it leads to a lot of court challenges.
TR: Can you give us some examples?
PHB: Suppose Quebec allows consumption in public, but Ontario says no. The tourist who arrives in Gatineau and decides to go to Ottawa by walking with his [joint] in his hands will be illegal and could be arrested as soon as he crossed the river.
Some provinces will ban consumption in rental housing because they will consider it a nuisance. Every province will have its regulations. Even at the municipal level, a city could decide to ban consumption in its public places, while the neighboring city could authorize it. This will cause a lot of confusion.
TR: What about drivers of vehicles?
PHB: In Quebec, it’s zero tolerance for all drivers at the criminal level. Legalization can be a problem for those who consume for medical reasons. Traces of cannabis can remain in the fatty tissue up to 14 days after consumption. What will happen with people who consume for medical reasons if it is zero tolerance? Will they be prohibited from driving their vehicles for a given period? This is where there will be a lot of court challenges. In my opinion, zero tolerance will not be applicable, particularly because of people who take cannabis for medical reasons or have used it a few days before going to work.
We knew [in mid-February] that U.S. customs officials were directed to ask a mandatory question on the consumption and possession of marijuana. Canadians going to the border could be asked: have you smoked and do you have marijuana? If you answer no, you might have to pass a mandatory test … you may be banned from crossing the United States. So a trucker who is lying and tested positive could be banned from entering the United States.
TR: What does the bill say about police powers to pass random tests to drivers of road vehicles?
PHB: Currently, Bill C-46 only addresses random testing for alcohol and would exclude drugs. The Conservatives will table an amendment to allow random testing for everyone in both cases, alcohol and drugs.
TR: Will the legislation introduce random drug testing for truckers?
PHB: In terms of the criminal code, no. On the other hand, in terms of workplace safety and employer-employee relations, the law will have to be clarified, particularly with respect to the federal Labor Code … Who says if an employer can pass drug tests to its employees? There is a gray area, a loophole right now. We rely on the case law [based on a case that involved] Irving.
TR: What consequences will legalization have on road safety in your opinion?
PHB: Everyone thinks there will be an increase in consumption, if only out of curiosity. In Colorado, there has been a 66% increase in road deaths due to marijuana. They compared the four years before legalization with the four years after legalization. During the first two or three years there was an increase in sales and consumption.
TR: Do you believe that the deadline of July 1, 2018 can be respected?
PHB: In my opinion, the bills will be adopted before July 1, but the government will not be able to implement them for a few weeks. It takes time to train police officers across the country, judges, lawyers and the Crown. Colorado gave us some examples of the mistakes that must not be repeated: the police were not ready and things were done very hastily. It must also be determined which device will be approved for the administration of the tests, and it is expected that there will be many court challenges still there. The law provides that an individual who is suspected must undergo a blood test within two hours of being arrested by the police. It is necessary to foresee the time of the arrest, the saliva test, the trip to the police station. We are exposed to disputes. All of this is going to bring us to this fall before there is legalization.
TR: Should trucking companies be worried about the legalization of cannabis?
PHB: In their place, I would be worried because the level of consumption in Canada is high for some age groups. Nearly four out of 10 have already consumed. And it’s disturbing because it includes people from all trades, including truckers.
- This interview has been translated from French, and has been edited for length and content.
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