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Marijuana Legalization – Remaining Challenges

By September 21, 2018 June 15th, 2023 No Comments
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As October 17th approaches, there are a number of issues around the legalization of marijuana still to be resolved. There remains a lack of clarity around certain key issues. There has also been a steady increase in recent years in emergency room visits relating to marijuana. This raises concerns that people may be using the drug in an uninformed and potentially dangerous way. Legalization and the increased accessibility of marijuana may exacerbate these issues.

Marijuana-Impaired Driving

One of the most prominent issues around legalization is the problem of testing drivers for marijuana-related impairment. The Department of Justice recently announced that police forces would use the Dräger DrugTest 5000 to test drivers suspected of being under the influence of marijuana. However, this strategy has not convinced everyone. The device tests drivers’ saliva, as it correlates with blood concentrations and can therefore be used to judge how recently marijuana has been ingested, if the driver has used the drug.

Rob Clark, Managing Director of Dräger Canada, says that this method of testing should allay fears that people who are unimpaired by marijuana but still have the drug in their system from earlier use will test positive. He also notes that, while police officers will carry out initial testing, any cases of suspected impairment will be referred to a Drug Recognition Expert. These experts may then conduct blood tests to serve as evidence.

Testing for CBD and THC

The Dräger Drug Test 5000 has a recommended operating range of between four and forty degrees Celsius, leading to concerns that it will produce inaccurate results when used outside of this range. Clark responds that the relevant parts of the device will remain inside the police vehicle, and that it is designed with heating and cooling functions to cope with extreme temperatures. He also notes that scientific studies have shown the device to have a 95% accuracy rate. Some commentators also feel that improved testing legislation will reduce marijuana-related road accidents, as the new measures to test for drug driving will deter people from engaging in it.

What if a Driver Fails the Test?

Failing the test will initiate a twelve-step process to establish whether a driver is impaired. Legal experts speculate that lawyers will challenge each of these steps in court, leading to lengthy, complicated trials. In the current context, drug driving cases in Canada take around twice as long to prosecute as drunk driving cases. The conviction rate is also considerably lower. Mario Harel is president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. He predicts a substantial rise in long-drawn out court procedures that will occupy police officers for substantial periods. There is also some confusion among the public as to what constitutes impairment in drug-driving cases.

Driving While Under the Influence of Marijuana

From an individual perspective, driving under the influence of marijuana is extremely dangerous and irresponsible. No one should do it under any circumstances. If you find yourself considering using marijuana when you know you will have to drive, or choosing to drive when you are already under the influence of the drug, this may be a sign of an unhealthy dependence. Cravings for a drug on which they are dependent can make a person behave in irrational ways. It is important to resist these impulses and, if they recur, to seek professional help. Our recent blog on methods for quitting marijuana is a helpful and informative starting point for anyone concerned by their own or a loved one’s marijuana use.

Policing Legal Marijuana

There are other challenges for law enforcement relating to marijuana legalization. Brian Shalovelo, Superintendent of the Saskatoon police department, describes the process as “a big change in policing.” The department hope to have around eighty members trained in field sobriety testing, and plan to train twenty officers as Drug Recognition Experts. An increase in the prevalence of marijuana in a legal form requires significantly more expertise on the force.

Shalovelo also expresses concern that the public is unaware of the fact that there will still be criminal sanctions against people in possession of thirty or more grams of marijuana. He feels that the media coverage of the legalization process has not adequately addressed this. This is certainly something that anyone intending to use legal marijuana should be aware of. An oversight in this regard could have serious legal consequences.

Marijuana-Related Health Problems

There is also extensive data showing that emergency room visits relating to marijuana use have significantly increased in recent years. The Canadian Institute for Health Information report that marijuana overdoses have almost tripled in Ontario over the past three years. The rate in Alberta has almost doubled during the same period.

Effects and Reasons for Weed Overdoses

These overdoses can involve vomiting, increased heart rate and blood pressure, intense anxiety and paranoia. The most serious cases may result in psychosis. Some commentators suggest that edible marijuana products are responsible for many of these overdoses. A lack of regulation around their production and labelling mean people may ingest far more of the drug than intended. Dr. Michael Szabo of the Toronto University Health Network also points out that the delayed effect of edibles makes people more likely to overdose, as people will often ingest more if they do not feel an immediate high. Szabo says he looks forward to the legalization of edibles. This is because legalization will lead to clearer information and more regulation around products and labeling. Edibles will not become legal until at least one year after October 17th of this year.

Concerns About Messaging from Weed Retailers

Ian Culbert of the Canadian Public Health Association also expressed concerns to CBC about the messaging around cannabis products in advance of legalization. He feels that we have not implemented enough harm-reduction strategies, and also focuses on edibles as presenting a particular danger. Culbert cites the fact that one quarter of 15- to 24-years-olds in Canada already use marijuana purchased illegally. He suggests that clearer and more comprehensive information should already be available. He also notes people who used marijuana some time ago and may consider doing so again upon legalization should be aware that it is “a very different product that it was twenty, thirty years ago.” The next few weeks will provide a good opportunity to research marijuana and its effects before it becomes more prevalent in Canadian society.

Marijuana Testing in the Workplace

The issue of workplace drug testing is another that remains unclear as legalization approaches. As the government have failed to arrive at a consensus with union and industry representatives, workplace drug testing disputes are likely to be settled in court.

Legalization of marijuana does not change the fact that, should an employee come to work impaired, their employer has a responsibility not to allow them to work. However, there is still a lack of clarity around the circumstances in which workplace drug testing is acceptable. Only employers who can prove that their workplace is particularly “safety-sensitive” have traditionally been allowed to carry out random testing. Member of Parliament Bill Blair recently confirmed that this would remain the case after marijuana legalization. Even in these cases, an employer generally must prove that they had strong grounds for testing an employee. A recent high-profile example of an employer attempting to impose drug testing involved the Toronto Transit Commission’s introduction of random drug and alcohol testing. The TTC union disputed the policy, but the authorities upheld the Commission’s decision on the grounds of public safety.

Workplace Dismissals

Experts predict that, like marijuana-impaired driving cases, workplace dismissals on the basis of failed random drug tests will be strenuously challenged in court. As with driving, the difficulty in assessing current impairment will complicate this issue for all involved. Concerns over privacy infringement also make workplace drug testing a contentious issue.

While the issue of workplace drug testing is complex in a legal sense, if drug use is impacting your working life, this is a strong sign of a potential dependence. If you or a loved one find that your drug use is affecting your professional life, it is time to seek professional help. Quality professional support can help someone to change their relationship with a substance or behaviour by identifying and treating its causes and consequences. It allows a person to restore balance and order in their life, professionally and otherwise.


There are many complex issues around marijuana legalization. However, the signs and consequences of addiction to the drug will remain broadly the same. Marijuana addiction does not present the same immediate dangers as addictions to drugs such as heroin or methamphetamine. However, it can still be extremely destructive. If you or a loved one are concerned about marijuana use, contact Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres today. Our expert clinical staff have extensive experience in treating marijuana addiction. Group counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy can help to address the underlying causes of an addiction and to develop strategies for dealing with them. We tailor our evidence-based programs to each individual client to ensure the most suitable treatment. With commitment and appropriate professional support, you or your loved one can overcome marijuana addiction and achieve lasting recovery.

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

Trafalgar Addiction Treatment Centres

We offer residential and outpatient rehab treatment programs for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders.

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