Back to school means back to carpooling for many Canadian parents. While most school districts in Canada still offer school buses and many kids live close enough to walk to school, there are a large number of parents who drive their kids to and from school each day. Police routinely step up their presence in school zones during the first few days of school, so it’s no surprise that some parents and other drivers are being stopped for speeding and other safety infractions. What is unusual is that one traffic stop for a speeding ticket almost got a British Columbia mom in hot water for smoking marijuana.
Did Smoking a Joint Impair the Driver?
Many substances and activities can impair a driver’s judgment, concentration, and reflexes. The focus in recent years has moved from driving under the influence of alcohol and illicit drugs like marijuana, to driving while impaired by any number of substances, including over-the-counter cold or allergy remedies and even prescription drugs. In the past few years, we have also seen distracted driving become an offence as studies have shown that this is now the number 1 killer on the roads in some regions.
The question is, did a mom’s celebratory joint on the way home from school significantly impair her ability to drive? Experts tell us that marijuana can affect concentration, memory and reaction time. So there is definitely a reason to be concerned if someone gets behind the wheel after consuming cannabis. But the Saanich PD drug recognition expert found the mom sober enough to drive. This, of course, begs the question of whether the mom would have been speeding even if she hadn’t been smoking pot.
Driving Safety and School Zones
A lower speed limit is enforced in school zones throughout British Columbia, as it is in the rest of Canada. The law in BC says a driver must slow down to 30 km/h – just under 19 miles/hr – in a school zone. While this speed seems unbearably slow for many drivers, it significantly increases the chances a child will survive if hit by a car. All the same, drivers tend not to respect the lower speed limits – and that includes parents who are in a rush to get to work or to get kids home and ready for extra-curricular activities.
Because the lower speed limits are not enforced when school isn’t in session, BC police start reminding drivers about them when the back to school season begins. In many communities there are extra patrol cars on the roads for the first day of school. Some police departments will set up traffic stops and speed traps near the schools, as is done in my community. Lots of tickets and warnings are given out, because even parents need reminding about safety rules after a whole summer away from school.
Is Marijuana Possession Still Criminal in Canada?
Despite plans of Canada’s current government to begin the process of legalizing marijuana possession in 2017, it’s still a crime to possess pot. Possession charges can carry both a fine and jail time if the individual is convicted. So the police officer could have theoretically arrested the Saanich mom when he smelled marijuana and she admitted to smoking the joint. Instead, she was checked by the drug recognition expert to be sure it was safe to let her drive home. And she was given her speeding ticket for driving too fast in the school zone – just like other drivers that day.
What Can We Learn from the Mom and Her Celebratory Joint?
While many Canadians hoped that there would be a moratorium on any charges for marijuana possession after Justin Trudeau’s Liberals were elected last fall, the Prime Minister warned that drug laws would still be enforced. Does this mean that Saanich police were giving our pot-smoking mom a break? It could be. But as the Georgia Straight reminds us, BC police record thousands of drug offences in their databases every year – but only about 7% of marijuana violations in the province result in official charges. Many people who report having a casual encounter with police later discover their names have been recorded in relation with a drug offence that could potentially come back to haunt them later.
So what can we take away from the story of our pot-smoking mom and her back to school joint? Well, first of all, cannabis still sells news in Canada. If this mom had just gotten a speeding ticket, we wouldn’t even be talking about her. Secondly, the Saanich police would seem to be more interested in safety than in punishing a parent for smoking marijuana – even if she did it before getting behind the wheel. We can also see the focus on safety in the effort that police throughout British Columbia and the rest of Canada are putting into public awareness as our kids head back to school. Lastly, we can see that while pot smoking can impair a driver, one joint won’t necessarily intoxicate a driver enough to pose a safety risk. It will be interesting to see how Canada deals with cannabis use and driving, once marijuana becomes legal across the nation.
Original content © 2016 Kyla Matton Osborne
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