NOT everyone who uses cannabis will do so while zipping along a major freeway. Still, a case just outside Sudbury last week gave one pause, and seems to confirm what police warned would happen when it became legal last fall to possess the drug in small amounts.
On Highway 69 — a route known for numerous fatal crashes — provincial police stopped a vehicle they said was “travelling at a high rate of speed.” That’s diplomatic language for describing a vehicle that is going much too fast, though it should be noted the driver in this case was not charged with “stunt driving,” an offence that applies when a car is clocked at 50 km/h or more over the speed limit.
While it’s also important to note that nothing has been proven in court, a Thunder Bay man in his mid-20s was charged with having cannabis readily available — a relatively new offence under the Cannabis Act — as well as having open liquor in a vehicle, and having a blood-alcohol reading of more than 80 milligrams. (A diplomatic way of saying you’re plastered.)
So, to summarize, if the police version is correct: speeding, impaired driving, open liquor and cannabis just a hand-shake away.
Maybe, if this person is convicted on the charges (he has not been), the court will order counselling to address what could be a substance-abuse problem. Maybe the charges this man is facing represent a huge wake-up call for him to take charge of his life. Perhaps he is taking solace in the fact that he did not cause a fatal collision.
And perhaps, because he is still a young man, the arresting police officer told him as much as they headed to the police station.
When the Trudeau government made it legal to possess up to 30 grams of cannabis, it certainly didn’t want users to be reaching for a joint while they’re behind the wheel. And yet, many young people interpreted the prospect of legalization as a signal — from a shirtless prime minister, who sometimes acted as young and crazy as them — that using pot is OK anywhere, anyplace, anytime.
Since the fall, provincial police have issued a steady stream of news releases about drivers in vehicles who have had their pot handy. This is what police warned would happen, even in the absence of data about such occurrences.
One officer put it this way this week: “Many are treating cannabis like tobacco, when it actually needs to be treated like open liquor within a vehicle.”
There’s a lot about cannabis use that is unknown, including its long-term effects on health, as was pointed out last year by groups no less than the Canadian Medical Association. Data are not yet available, since cannabis was not legal before the fall, although one needn’t have gone to medical school to understand that sucking smoke into your lungs is not a particularly good thing to do. One thing that was already well established: teenagers and adults in their early 20s shouldn’t do drugs because it can impair brain development.
There were a lot of good reasons not to go whole hog on the marketing of cannabis, from a medical and policing point of view. But the federal government, well, it just forged ahead. The feeling seemed to be — Let’s just do it anyway.
This has the potential to become a big can of worms. At least we know who will get the blame if it does.