ARI’s Peter Nogalo shares some strategies on designing fleet policy to address the upcoming changes to Canada’s drug laws.
After hearings, heated debate, and a high stakes showdown in the Canadian senate, the Liberal government’s plans to legalize marijuana for recreational use appear to be on track for implementation by mid-summer. While the federal and provincial governments as well as the police are working to prepare for the significant impacts legalized marijuana will have in a number of areas, if they haven’t already done so, fleet operators should similarly prepare for the very real impact legalization will have on fleet policy, education, and driver safety.
What will the laws look like?
There are actually two major bills currently working their way through parliament that will bring about marijuana legalization. The first would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act. The second amends the Criminal Code and strengthens federal provisions around impaired driving, both drug and alcohol related. Each province is also enacting various legislation around the distribution of cannabis as well as their own road safety provisions. Much like with alcohol, the federal government establishes criminal code standards of impairment, while the provinces can enact their own road safety rules around fines, license suspensions, and impoundment.
What are the risks of cannabis related impairment?
According to a poll conducted by Ipsos Reid in late 2017, 77 percent of Canadians are concerned about the impact of marijuana legalization on road safety, while nearly 75 percent support stricter penalties for drug impaired drivers. The poll’s other findings indicate that these concerns may be warranted. The poll found that 16 percent of respondents had used cannabis in the previous three months. Nearly half of that group told pollsters that marijuana either improved, had no impact, or were unclear as to whether marijuana usage affected their driving. The research is less equivocal, however. A 2017 study by the Canadian Drug Policy Coalition and Simon Fraser University reported there is an approximately “20%-30% increased risk for cannabis-related motor vehicle collision.” The authors do point out that a significant contributing factor is the use of both cannabis and alcohol prior to the collision. According to the government of Alberta, 24.1% of all road fatalities in that province “involved drivers who tested positive for both alcohol and drugs in 2013.”
What does this mean for employers and fleet operators?
Fleet operators should be revising their fleet and employment policies in advance of the impending legislation. In consort with legal and human resources, policy reviews should focus on both federal and provincial legislation, including those provinces with zero tolerance around the presence of drugs for commercial drivers. Organizations should fully communicate any changes in company policies to their drivers and educate them as to the legislative changes in impairment standards. Some transportation and construction companies are going further by asking the federal government to allow random drug testing of specific groups of employees. According to Occupational Safety & Health Reporter, a Bloomberg publication; should they be successful in their efforts “companies such as Purolator Inc., Greyhound Canada, EllisDon, Aecon, Ledcor Group, Air Canada, and Bell Canada would be able to test employees to prevent—or limit—a potential surge in workplace accidents due to increased marijuana use.”
*The above information, in its entirety or part, should not be construed as legal advice. ARI encourages fleet operators to confer with their legal and/or human resources counsel to develop appropriate policies, standards, or training in advance of the impending legislation governing recreational marijuana usage.
NEW STANDARDS FOR CANNABIS IMPAIRMENT
How is impairment determined?
Impairment is determined by measuring for active THC in the blood stream. THC is the main intoxicant in marijuana.
What is the standard?
• More than 2 nanograms of active THC in the blood is a criminal driving offense punishable with a fine of up to $1,000.
• The presence of more than 5 nanograms is a more serious offense, which can be punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
• A combined presence of a BAC of .05 and a THC level over 2.5 nanograms is also punishable by a sentence up to 10 years. What is the test? Law enforcement will test for impairment by using “fluid” samples, including saliva and blood samples. “Roadside oral fluid drug screeners”—or a saliva test— would be used if law enforcement had reason to believe marijuana had been consumed. Much like with alcohol, secondary screening would take place at a police station. That could be a blood test, but it must be administered within two hours.
What about the provinces?
Again, as with alcohol, the provinces are establishing their own rules. Ontario will have “zero-tolerance rules prohibiting commercial drivers from having the presence of either alcohol and/or drugs in their system, as detected by a federally approved screening device.” Drivers under 21 face similar rules, with all other drivers facing increased monetary penalties in 2019. The province has also banned the use of non-medical marijuana in any work or public place. Drivers in British Columbia and Alberta will face a 90- day suspension for a maximum offence.