Bill 26–The Impaired Driving Offences Act - driving after smoking marijuana. It is important that people know the changes that are coming - and have input.
Bill 26, which puts very strict restrictions on driving after smoking marijuana, was debated at second reading on April 19th and will go to committee - likely the week of May 7th. If you have comments on this bill and would like to make a presentation to the Legislative Committee phone 204-945-3636, the office of the Clerk to get on the list of people presenting. My comments during the debate on second reading are below. This is followed by a question and answer session with the Minister.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): First of all, I want to say that Liberals are strong supporters of efforts to keep our roads safe, that this is a paramount concern and it is particularly the case at the moment when we have evidence of increased numbers of accidents related to distracted driving. And at the same time, it's pretty clear that there are some unique problems associated with measuring impairment when we're talking about marijuana.
We don't fully understand yet the relevance of an individual concentration of marijuana or cannabis in the blood and how that translates into impairment. Cannabis is stored in the fat, and, once stored, then it can be released relatively slowly so that it's around for a long time. So it's not like another chemical agent which would be excreted very quickly with a relatively short half-life. The half-life, because of this tortuous path sometimes of marijuana coming into the fat tissue–fat tissue could be all over the body, of course, including the brain. And, when it comes out slowly, then you have, essentially, delayed release of cannabis. And that means that cannabis can be around, and it could also mean–and account, potentially, for considerable individual variation in terms of the metabolism of cannabis.
There are concerns about the accuracy of some of the tests, the oral fluid test being an example. And all this raises a significant issue when we put this together with the aspect of tolerance to cannabis, that the level of impairment may not correspond all that well to the measured level of blood in the blood stream. And, if that's the case, we have a fairly large problem.
I suspect that we will have to use direct tests of impairment in some fashion, as well as tests of marijuana levels in the blood. And that will be a little more cumbersome. With alcohol, people were asked to walk in a straight line and other measures of sobriety. I'm sure that people will be able to measure–or develop measures of impairment related to cannabis, but I don't think that we have measures which are really adequately reflected of the level of impairment at this point, until you have very high levels of cannabis, and then it becomes obvious.
But, certainly, the complications are ones that we're going to be having to wrestle with, and our legal system and our law enforcement–police officers and others–are going to have to wrestle with in terms of how we deal with trying to make sure that we don't have people driving around who have taken cannabis and exposed to cannabis and are impaired. And this is something which I think the minister is going to have to be ready to adapt fairly quickly as the situation develops.
And we're certainly, you know, supportive of moving forward on this legislation but also ready to listen to people coming forward at committee stage and what they have to say, because I'm sure that individuals will come forward with very personal experiences, which will add to the mix of information which we have, as well as we're likely to have people coming forward, hopefully, with additional scientific data and scientific evidence which can be helpful.
So I look forward to having some question and answer time, and I look forward to what we hear at committee stage. Thank you, Madam Speaker.
Madam Speaker: A question period of up to 15 minutes will be held. Questions may be addressed to the minister by any member in the following sequence: first question by the official opposition critic or designate; subsequent questions asked by critics or designates from other recognized opposition parties; subsequent questions asked by each independent member; remaining questions asked by any opposition members; and no question or answer shall exceed 45 seconds.
Ms. Nahanni Fontaine (St. Johns): Can the minister tell us who she consulted with on this bill?
Hon. Heather Stefanson (Minister of Justice and Attorney General): We consulted with a whole host of organizations and individuals who are experts in this area: law enforcement, MADD Canada, CAA Manitoba, there's a number of organizations that we have heard from and that have offered their advice as to how to move forward.
And, certainly, we've taken the approach–we've always taken the approach of putting the public health and safety of Manitobans first when it comes to this and everything. And, certainly, what we're doing with this is that our new provincial sanctions for drug-impaired drying–driving essentially mirror those that are already in place for drunk driving.
Hon. Jon Gerrard (River Heights): Yes, just to–I would ask the minister to kind of take us through what you would anticipate if a police officer takes somebody–picks somebody up who they think has been driving impaired.
What would the procedure be in terms of what would happen at the car door as it were?
Mrs. Stefanson: It's a good question.
I think probably there's other people more appropriate than me to answer that–law enforcement, so on–that could probably do a much more eloquent job of explaining that than I can, but, certainly, first of all, we need the oral fluids screening devices approved. Those are approved by the federal Attorney General. So we're waiting on that process, and it's done based on a panel of experts who will recommend that to the minister.
But, once those oral fluid screening devices are approved, essentially if a police officer is suspecting someone of either–of driving impaired, they will pull them over. They will indicate whether or not somebody–okay, I'm–I think I'm running out of time, Madam Speaker, but I will address that–
Madam Speaker: The member's time has run out.
Ms. Fontaine: Well, while the minister talks about our partners in respect of the WPS and the RCMP and DOPS and Brandon Police and–is she concerned that her government's cuts to police services will make it harder for police to actually be prepared for cannabis legislation and to undertake and execute this particular legislation?
Mrs. Stefanson: Well, I think the member brings up, certainly, a very good point and a point that we have been making to the federal government since their initiation of the legalization of cannabis in our country.
We have said from the very beginning that this is going to have costs associated with policing and law enforcement. So we have been working with those police–working at the law enforcement organizations to deliver that message to Ottawa, that if this is the path they choose to go down, there's going to have to be further resources that are passed on to law enforcement as well with respect to this.
So we have been lobbying for that for the federal government. I thank the member for the question.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes, I would ask the minister to continue describing what would happen when somebody is pulled over and tested.
Mrs. Stefanson: I thank the member for the question.
So, if someone is suspected of driving impaired, they're pulled over. The police officer will approach the vehicle, there is obviously–they will detect whether or not they smell alcohol on their breath, or whether they detect perhaps there's a smell of marijuana.
They will indicate at that time whether–what side–what oral fluids screening device would be appropriate. So a lot of this is left up to law enforcement. They have–they will have further tools in place to help them ensure that they ensure the–this–the safety of people on our roadways.
And I believe I'm running out of time again, so we can continue to do that later.
Ms. Fontaine: Is the minister concerned at all that her 'goverance'–government's most recent cuts to transit will encourage cannabis users to actually drive while impaired?
Mrs. Stefanson: Well, what we will ensure is that there will be a very significant education campaign, and I know MPI and the liquor, gaining–gaming, and cannabis authority, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries, everyone will be involved. A whole-of-government approach to ensure that there is an education campaign out there to ensure that Manitobans understand the consequences of drug-impaired driving.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes, perhaps the minister can continue the activities that would take place at different levels of testing results from the oral fluid test.
Mrs. Stefanson: So, essentially, from there, if someone fails–it's a pass or a fail on an oral screening device–if they fail, the officer will take the necessary steps from there.
There's various sanctions for those as well as pre-conviction, post-conviction sanctions from there and so–but, certainly, if the member opposite would like a more detailed briefing on that, I'm sure we can arrange for that as well.
Ms. Fontaine: Can the minister tell us if medical cannabis users will be able to present proof of a prescription to police at the roadside?
Mrs. Stefanson: Well, the member opposite needs to understand that whether or not someone has a prescription or not, if they are impaired, they should not be on our roadways. And that is where we are coming from. I think that's what most Manitobans understand. It doesn't matter–a prescription doesn't get you a get‑out‑of‑jail‑free card. If you are impaired and you are behind a vehicle, it doesn't matter whether or not you have a prescription for medical marijuana or not.
Mr. Gerrard: One of the things which clearly is going to be important is that people who are on medical marijuana have the opportunity to find out when after a dose of marijuana they are impaired or at a level which is problematic in terms of driving. What will the minister be setting up so that that would be–some sort of assessment would be available or help to those who are taking medical marijuana so that they have some heads-up in terms of what they can or can't take [and] when they can or can't drive?
Mrs. Stefanson: The member opposite will know that the THC limits are established in federal legislation, and so–in Bill C‑46, and so that is really under the purview of the federal government with respect to setting those limits. But, certainly, this will be part of an education campaign.
This is all very new to us. This is one of the biggest public policy changes in our country, and I can tell you that as a government we will do everything we can to ensure the safety of Manitobans.
Ms. Fontaine: Can the minister tell us how her bill differs from other jurisdictions' across the country?
Mrs. Stefanson: Yes, various provinces are taking different approaches to this. Primarily, many–and, certainly, I can get the specifics of breakdowns across the provinces for the member at a later time. I don't think I'll have the time within this question period to do that, but, certainly, we have taken the approach of trying to mirror what is already there for drug–drunk-driving sanctions. We believe that that will help people understand a little bit more clearly, because it's already out there, on that side, so we believed that that was the appropriate approach.
Mr. Gerrard: To the minister: Will the minister and the police and others be totally reliant just on the concentration that is found in the oral fluid or in the blood, or will there be an attempt to measure, in some fashion, or to assess impairment in terms of cognitive or other abilities which may be affected?
Mrs. Stefanson: There are a number of evidentiary testing that can take place at the roadside, and so, certainly, we leave that up to our law enforcement to decide. They–we believe that they know best which evidentiary testing they should utilize at the roadside and, really, that would be within the purview of either the Winnipeg Police Service or the RCMP or other law enforcement officers to make that decision.
Ms. Fontaine: Can the minister tell us that, once roadside testing methods are created, including the devices and threshold levels, will the minister amend this legislation to reflect these developments in the act, or will they stay in regulation?
Mrs. Stefanson: We will continue–we will monitor the federal legislation as to when it comes into force, but this act will be proclaimed at the same time as the federal Bill C-46 as well. So that should take care of any of those issues that the member opposite is bringing up.
Mr. Gerrard: I'm interested, because I think there's a lot of public interest in this bill as to, when presumably this passes on Monday, how quickly will it be taken to committee level, just so that people can be aware of when it will be going to committee. Will it be next week or will it wait 'til after we have the break?
Mrs. Stefanson: Well, I don't decide myself when things go to committee, but I have a tremendous amount of faith in our Government House Leader (Mr. Cullen), and he will make those decisions based on advice from all members of this House.
Madam Speaker: Are there any further questions? Oh–
Mr. Mohinder Saran (The Maples): Yes, I'm wondering if somebody's riding a bike under the influence of marijuana, will he be considered impaired driver, or what will we consider it?
Mrs. Stefanson: The member brings up a good question. We focus on vehicles–driving cars and trucks and so on, but, certainly, there are laws in place with respect to bicycles as well.
So we will leave that up to law enforcement to–at their discretion. We believe they know best how to deal with those situations.
Mr. Gerrard: Yes, we have a sizable taxi industry in Manitoba. You know, they have experience in handling people who have been consuming alcohol. But what recommendations or what education is going to be given to taxi drivers with regard to how they handle people who have been consuming or smoking cannabis or marijuana?
Mrs. Stefanson: I thank the member for the question. And, certainly, we'll leave that up to–[interjection]
Madam Speaker: Order.
Mrs. Stefanson: –that industry to make the decisions that they deem appropriate with respect to that. But this bill is more on the impaired driving side of things and making sure that we ensure that our roads are safe for all Manitobans.
Madam Speaker: If there are no further questions, then debate on this bill will remain open.
That concludes the business before the House this evening.
The hour being past 5 p.m., this House is adjourned and stands adjourned until 1:30 p.m. on Monday.