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Legislation to Legalize Cannabis is Announced

April 18, 2017 [AYR, ON] – Last week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced new legislation to legalize cannabis in Canada, which is expected to formally take place in 2018.

The new law would allow adults 18 and over to possess up to 30 grams of dried cannabis with the ability to purchase cannabis and cannabis oil from retailers. Age limits will be regulated at the provincial level. Additionally, Canadians will be allowed to grow up to 4 plants per residence for personal use.

On the same day, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould announced major changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws, which will include mandatory roadside alcohol screening and new tougher criminal offences for driving while under the influence of drugs.

The Canadian government formed a special Task Force to review and create Cannabis Legalization and Regulation which was led by Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief. Part of the task force’s duty was to consider drug impairment while driving.

If law enforcement suspect a driver is high, they can demand that the driver provide an ‘oral fluid sample’. A positive test result (or commonly referred to as a ‘non-negative result’) would lead to further testing, including a blood test to determine if a criminal offence has been committed.

Oral fluid testing was deemed the most appropriate form of drug detection, as it has the ability to identify recent use at specific cut-off levels. New drug-related offences will be created for drivers who have consumed drugs within 2 hours of driving. Testing would analyze the amount of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the primary psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis. Those found to have 2 nanograms, but less than 5 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood could face a maximum fine of up to $1,000). Drivers who have a blood level of more than 5 nanograms of THC, or is also found to be drinking alcohol in conjunction with marijuana usage could face jail time of up to 10 years.

Crashes involving alcohol and/or drugs is the leading criminal cause of death in Canada.

“It would be fair to assume that crashes involving cannabis will see a sharp increase,” says Dr. Chris Page, founder and owner of DriverCheck Inc. “Simply put, if cannabis is easily accessible and legalized, one would suspect that usage will increase. With this increase in usage, we will see an increase in drug impaired driving, which should be a serious concern for public safety in Canada.”

Although, the government has not specified which drug testing device would be used, it is expected that the DrugWipe point of care device from Securetec will be the instrument of choice, as it was recently used in a pilot program in Canada. The DrugWipe system can detect THC, opiates, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamines (MDMA, ecstasy), benzodiazepines and ketamine. For companies considering the use of oral fluid point of care devices, please note that DriverCheck has not yet endorsed one of these devices due to the challenge in accurately detecting marijuana at low cut-off levels. For companies wanting to perform oral fluid testing, we recommend the gold standard – lab based oral fluid testing – at this time.

Many people have raised concerns about the impact legalized marijuana will have on the safety of our roads but also in the workplace. The number of medical marijuana authorizations have sky rocketed in the last few years and has been a learning template for organizations who have dealt with this challenge and were forced to review or implement new alcohol and drug testing policies, protocols and procedures.

“Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean it’s safe to use. Look no further than alcohol and prescription medication. They are legal, but not necessarily accepted in the workplace – specifically, in safety sensitive positions,” says Dr. Page.

Dr. Page continues, “Our first recommendation is to review the types of occupations you have in your company. Is this considered a safety sensitive role? Is that individual putting not only themselves, but co-workers and the general public at risk by using cannabis at work? If the answer is yes, you should seriously review your workplace alcohol and drug policy and testing program. Our stance is that public safety should outweigh human rights.”

Although detection of impairment is considered a challenge (when compared to alcohol blood levels), the implementation of oral fluid testing is a start – as it is the best option we have currently to detect recent use, and therefore, likelihood of impairment. It may not be a perfect formula now, but it’s a starting point – and superior to the other option of doing nothing.

Have questions or comments about cannabis in the workplace? Dr. Melissa Snider-Adler, DriverCheck’s Chief Medical Review Officer is presenting ‘Canadian Cannabis Craze’ on May 17 in Calgary at a meeting hosted by the Private Motor Truck Council. Space is limited, so people are encouraged to register early by contacting Vanessa Cox at info@pmtc.ca. You can also register online at www.pmtc.ca.

We will be providing clients with a recording of a recent webinar on this topic presented by Dr. Snider-Adler in the next edition of our newsletter, and we will be hosting further educational events this fall that we will communicate at a later date.

About DriverCheck Inc.:

Since its inception in 1996, DriverCheck Inc. (DC) has been the leading provider of medical testing and assessments in Canada. Physician-owned and operated, DC has grown to become the largest national provider of workplace medical testing, and was one of the first Third Party Administrators in Canada to offer DOT-regulated alcohol and drug testing. DC’s head office is located in the village of Ayr, the heart of Ontario’s transportation hub. DC currently serves over 6,400 employers, with access to over 1,000 testing facilities strategically located across the country, providing easy access to all medical services. Our diverse service offerings include alcohol and drug testing, fatigue management, occupational health and injury management programs (including remote medical services). DC services a wide array of industries including transportation, oil & gas, mining, forestry and medical.

As Canada’s fitness for duty leader, DC’s top priority is the safety of your staff and workplace.

To learn more about DriverCheck, visit www.DriverCheck.ca or call 1 (800) 463-4310.