In a town on a highway infamous for fatal accidents, a new threat to road safety is looming. The government is following through on their promise to legalize recreational marijuana use. You can’t legally light one up tomorrow, but next year on 4:20, any adult Canadian will be legally allowed to.
Police and the public are concerned about the lack of a reliable roadside test to determine impairment from THC, which is the component of marijuana that impairs one’s ability to drive. Saliva tests can show that the drug has been consumed, but not how long ago it was consumed, or in what amounts. Chemical traces of marijuana remain in the body for long periods, unlike alcohol which is eliminated relatively quickly. A police officer is usually able to smell booze on a drunk driver, but a stoned driver may not smell like weed if they’ve been consuming it in an edible form.
Additionally, there is much debate about whether it’s possible to set a meaningful legal limit on blood THC levels such as those that exist for blood alcohol levels. The amount of THC necessary to seriously impair an individual varies so widely that it may be impossible to set a standard.
With roadside saliva tests being very new and somewhat unproven, as well as very expensive, and the legal THC limits being based on limited evidence, the tests will have limited utility for police. To be on the safe side, the legal limit for blood THC levels should be set at zero until we have better data on safe THC levels as well as a reliable roadside test such as the one we have for alcohol.
There have been widespread public education campaigns which have effectively made drunk driving a social faux pas. Many people will speak up if they see a friend about to get behind the wheel after having had a few drinks. With drunk driving, we know that we can’t rely solely on police and the law to keep our roads safe. It’s important to socially “police” each other. If you are using drugs with a friend, don’t let them drive away.
However, in some social circles, especially in rural areas such as ours, drunk driving is still accepted. We have work to do to change that fact.
Anti-drug laws and DUI laws are not what will reduce the prevalence of impaired driving. The most effective tool is peer pressure. If people are willing to challenge their friends and make it clear that taking to the streets while high is stupid and reckless rather than funny and cool, then we’ll be able to keep the numbers of drug-related highway deaths from spiking in the coming years.