Newsbrief: Canadian Government to Reintroduce Marijuana Reform Bill, But Adds Driver Drug Testing, Too 10/22/04

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The Canadian government will reintroduce its much criticized marijuana decriminalization bill, Justice Minister Irwin Cotler told the news agency Canwest on October 11. A similar bill introduced by then Prime Minister Jean Chretien died last year when Chretien dismissed parliament to call elections resulting in the selection of Paul Martin as his successor.

This time around, Cotler said, the bill will be accompanied by legislation allowing police to force drivers to submit to drug tests. Both bills will be introduced in November, he said. The decrim bill will be essentially unchanged from last year's model, which called for making possession of less than 30 grams a ticketable offense, not a criminal one. "It might get changed in committee but we are basically reintroducing that legislation," Cotler said, referring to the bill introduced under Chretien.

That bill was criticized by marijuana reform advocates as not going far enough, and was ultimately opposed by the pro-reform New Democratic Party (NDP). NDP parliamentarians have vowed to fight this year to make the bill more palatable, but will oppose it if necessary changes are not made.

Cotler's announced plan to simultaneously submit a drugged driver testing bill is sure to excite more opposition from Canadian marijuana activists and raises more questions than it answers at this point. Cotler said that while current law obliges drivers to submit to a breathalyzer test if police have cause to believe they are driving under the influence, no such measures exist to fight against marijuana-impaired drivers. "Now a technology has been developed which allows for a parallel process with regard to drug-impaired driving to be investigated and enforced as we have for alcohol-impaired driving," he claimed.

But Cotler did not say if a certain level of marijuana in the blood would be considered prima facie evidence of impairment, as with US drunk driving laws, nor how that level would be determined. Neither did he say whether Canadian authorities were considering a "zero tolerance" approach to cannabis in the bloodstream, as is strongly encouraged by US model drugged driving laws written by the Department of Transportation.

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