Federal marijuana announcement step in right direction but leaves unanswered questions, AMA says

Edmonton – The Alberta Motor Association is encouraged to see the marijuana legislation introduced today would establish stiff new penalties for drug-impaired driving, but several issues still need to be dealt with to make it effective.

AMA believes three issues need to be addressed regarding drug-impaired driving: clear law, tools for law enforcement and public education. Today’s announcement deals with the law but leaves questions around funding and public education. At the same time, AMA is pleased the government toughened the Criminal Code provisions on alcohol-impaired driving to increase penalties and make it easier to secure a conviction.

“Today’s legislation makes clear that governments, police services and other traffic safety partners still have a lot of work yet to do,” says Jeff Kasbrick, vice president of government & stakeholder relations, AMA. “This is a complex issue that requires considerable police training and public education. We’re still waiting for the details on additional funding to make the legislation enforceable. This needs to happen sooner rather than later.”

While the government committed today to making more money available to train police in drug recognition and to acquire testing devices, it didn’t say how much or when it will be available. The government also reiterated a Budget 2017 commitment to spend less than $2 million a year over five years on public education - a sum that is clearly inadequate, given the misconceptions about marijuana’s effect on driving.

“We know from our experience with alcohol that public education helps dispel myths and misperceptions and plays an important role in reducing impaired driving,” says Kasbrick. “Our own member surveys show that knowledge around how marijuana affects driving is low.”

An AMA member opinion survey found that more than half of Albertans (56 per cent) are concerned about traffic safety with marijuana legalization, while less than a third (30 per cent) said they were knowledgeable about how marijuana affects driving.

The new law would require a positive blood test within two hours to get a conviction. Evidence from U.S. jurisdictions is that it often takes longer than two hours to complete the process, and requires the presence of a trained technician to take the sample, putting a tough burden on law enforcement and raising questions about how workable the provision will be.

“Although this is federal legislation, the fact is that a large burden of the responsibility around education and equipping police services with the necessary tools and training will fall to the provinces,” says Kasbrick. “We agree with the government of Alberta that we’re facing an ambitious timeline and we are committed to working together on these important issues to ensure road safety.”

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The Alberta Motor Association (AMA) is among the largest membership organizations in Alberta, representing more than 975,000 members. As a leading advocate for traffic safety, travel and consumer protection and crime prevention, AMA represents the interests of its members to industry and all levels of government and helps protect the things they care about most. Visit ama.ab.ca to learn more about AMA’s products, services and member advocacy efforts.