Medical marijuana has been legal in Canada for almost 20 years. But thanks to the country's new rules on drug-impaired driving, medical marijuana patients basically can't drive anywhere in Canada anymore. If they do, they risk getting into the same legal hassle that Michelle Gray of Halifax endured recently.
Gray, a 38-year-old woman using medical cannabis to treat symptoms of multiple sclerosis, was arrested on Tuesday for driving high. Her car was impounded, and her licence was temporarily revoked - even after it was determined that she was sober.
According to Gray, she consumed about “half a tiny joint” around 4pm that day, several hours before taking her son out to dinner in order to celebrate his 19th birthday. She also admits to having a single drink with dinner. On their way home, at roughly 10:45pm, they were pulled over at a roadblock set up by the RCMP.
After telling the officer that she’d had a drink, she submitted to a breathalyzer, which she passed. After the officer smelled marijuana in the car, they recommended that she move it to her trunk, as per provincial law. After doing so, she agreed to a roadside oral fluid test designed to detect high drivers – and was subsequently informed that she was over the limit, though the officer did not specify what her levels actually were.
Gray was then placed under arrest, and her car was impounded, forcing her son to get a ride home with a relative.
After being taken to the station, Gray was given two options – getting blood work done, or taking a more extensive sobriety test with a drug recognition expert. Gray chose the latter, and passed, despite her concerns that her symptoms of MS might’ve been misinterpreted as intoxication.
Still, despite having been found to be unimpaired, Gray lost her license for a week, having to pay $150 to have it reinstated and reprinted. She also had to pay an additional $250 to have her car returned, forcing her to miss four days of work in the meantime.
Her case reveals a major problem with the current laws concerning drug-impaired driving. According to federal law, having between two and five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood within two hours of driving puts the user over the legal limit. This is despite the lack of a concrete link between THC levels in one’s system and impairment. Some people have a higher tolerance than others, so even though the THC level in their blood is high, they are not. Typically, those people have consumed cannabis over a long period of time. That seems to be the case for Gray - a cannabis consumer since she was a teenager, which is likely why she has a “very high tolerance,” to use her words. But she isn't the only one. Medical marijuana patients who use their medication daily are also likely to have elevated levels of THC in their blood that do not affect their ability to drive.
Still, according to RCMP Halifax, the provincial penalties remain in place for failing a roadside test, regardless of whether or not the perpetrator is deemed impaired. And that's a huge problem for every cannabis consumer but especially medical patients. Given the fact that THC can remain detectable in a person’s body for up to a month, patients like Gray could be arrested for impaired driving at any time, regardless of whether or not they are sober.