TORONTO, Ont. – Canadians still hoping they’ll be able to legally smoke a joint to celebrate the country’s July 1 birthday will be disappointed, says MP Bill Blair.
The former top cop for Toronto turned federal member of parliament was in Toronto Thursday night to talk cannabis legalization.
Co-hosting a town hall with MP Arif Virani, Blair addressed concerns from residents about the upcoming changes to drug laws, including those about impaired driving and use by those in safety sensitive positions.
Blair says while laws surrounding drivers generally have been hashed out in the bill currently before the senate but adding extra restrictions for commercial vehicle drivers isn’t something that’s being considered right now.
Once the law passes all drivers will be considered impaired if there are two nanograms (ng) of cannabis in their system per 100 milliliters of blood – what’s referred to as a 0.02 per se limit, similar to those that restrict alcohol limits to 0.05 or 0.08.
More than $161 million will be going into testing equipment and training for officers doing roadside checks. That money will come from the taxes being imposed on cannabis products sold, Blair said.
Those roadside tests will be conducted using an oral fluid test – a stick that measures the presence of cannabis in saliva. Currently those tests are only sensitive enough to read a per se limit of 0.05 or higher.
Blair says officers will be using every tool at their disposal to detect impaired drivers, and that smell, slurred speech, weaving in traffic, red eyes, or other behaviors that could suggest a driver is high will still be reasonable grounds to take action, even if their levels are too low to be detected by oral fluid tests.
Drivers will be ordered to take a blood test if there is reasonable suspicion to believe they’re impaired – potentially even with a failure of an oral fluid test. For truck drivers, there could also be an immediate license suspention.
“Ontario has built into the legislation that if it’s detectable, at whatever amount in the blood, you can suspend right away for commercial and graduated licenses.”
While there are no specifics for commercial drivers in the legislation, Blair says he agrees with calls from the Canadian Trucking Alliance and others for there to be a zero-tolerance policy on pot use and driving.
“I want everybody on the road to be completely sober and safe,” he said. “The message is not that there’s a safe level of cannabis to use to drive, the message is if you’re using cannabis, don’t drive.”
Even though there is no immediate regulation specific to the trucking industry, doesn’t mean there won’t be in the future. Blair – who is the parliamentary secretary to the ministers of heath and justice and is helping to craft the new regulations – said additions to the legislation are slated to roll out slowly as more is learned.
“This is a process not an event… we’ll do this right.”
Meanwhile, the date for initial legalization is still a moving target. Blair said provinces have been asking for an eight to 12-week lead time once the bill receives royal assent to make sure they’re prepared, and they’re going to get it.
While both bills on regulation and enforcement are before the senate now, with an expected vote on June 7, if they are sent back to committee with amendments it could be weeks or even months before a final version is passed. Royal assent will be scheduled after the bills make their way through the upper chamber a final time.
If there are no changes, the earliest legal cannabis stores can open their doors will be around August 9.
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