Concerns sparked over federal cannabis legislation

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The federal government outlined its plans for the legalization of cannabis April 13, which includes regulations for the production, distribution, sale and possession of the drug while introducing strict penalties for its misuse.

“Today, we are following through on our commitment to introduce comprehensive legislation to legalize, strictly regulate and restrict access to cannabis and to create new laws to punish more severely those who drive under its influence,” Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada Jody Wilson-Raybould said in a release issued by the government.

“The Cannabis Act reflects an evidence-based approach that will protect Canadians’ public health and safety. By tackling alcohol- and drug-impaired driving with new and tougher criminal offences, Canadians will be better protected from impaired drivers and the number of deaths and accidents on our roads will be reduced.”

The announcement sparked an immediate response from the province.

“While the federal government has made the decision to legalize, many important decisions will be left to the province. These decisions include where cannabis can be sold and where it can be consumed,” Minister of Justice and Solicitor General Kathleen Ganley said in a release issued April 13.

“Our government is focused on keeping cannabis out of the hands of children, keeping profits away from criminals and protecting Alberta’s roads, workplaces and public spaces.”

One issue of considerable concern, according to Ganley, is how the province will enforce the new legislation, particularly on Alberta’s roads.

“The proposed changes to the criminal code would bring in stricter penalties for impaired driving related to cannabis,” she said. “We are encouraged by the federal government’s effort to create a reliable roadside saliva test and we support this approach.”

The proposed criminal code changes include the introduction of levels of impairment for use by law enforcement. Under the proposed legislation, some having at least two nanograms (ng) but less than five ng of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) per millilitre (ml) of blood within two hours of driving would be punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

Someone with five ng or more of THC per ml of blood within two hours of driving would be subject to prosecution. Having a combined blood alcohol concentration of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood as well as a THC level of greater than 2.5 ng per ml of blood within two hours of driving would also make the individual subject to prosecution.

MADD Canada – a national group with a chapter in Calgary and surrounding area dedicated to stopping impaired driving and supporting the victims of impaired driving – issued a statement April 13 in support of the proposed legislation.

“With respect to the specific new laws being proposed around drugged driving, within the context of the legislation to legalize recreational use of marijuana, MADD Canada is pleased to see proposals for new roadside screening measures, the establishment of driving limits and new charges specific to drugged driving,” the statement read. “Drugs can impair driving ability and increase the risk of a crash, and these new laws and tools are crucially needed.”

Other changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws were also introduced by the federal government, including higher penalties for those caught impaired behind the wheel by either alcohol or marijuana.

The act seeks to protect Canada’s youth with strict penalties of up to a maximum of 14 years in jail for giving or selling cannabis to youth under the age of 18 or using youth to commit a cannabis-related offence.

Airdrie Wildrose MLA Angela Pitt said her party is also taking a wait-and-see approach.

“The federal government just tabled the legislation on Thursday so we’re just sifting through,” she said. “We’ve done some consultation and have been given some good advice on pieces of the regulations that the provinces should implement.”

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