by Clare Clancy
The NDP introduced new legislation Tuesday that aims to fill the gap in impaired driving rules ahead of cannabis legalization across Canada.
The federal government has proposed specific drug limits as well as penalties for drivers who break the law. Ottawa has also touted the development of a roadside drug test in preparation for the July 1 milestone when cannabis becomes legal.
Alberta Transportation Minister Brian Mason said Bill 29 - which updates the Traffic Safety Act - will reduce the number of impaired drivers on the road and encourage safe driving if passed.
"Other jurisdictions have seen an increase in impaired driving when cannabis has become legal," Mason said, adding the province will roll out a public education campaign. "The real risk here is that people don't feel cannabis is quite as bad, or that it is as impairing a substance as alcohol. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Alberta's rules are a response to federal legislation and pending changes to the Criminal Code of Canada.
Under Bill C-46, drivers would face a maximum $1,000 fine if their blood tested positive for two to five nanograms per millilitre of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). For drivers with more than five ng/ml of THC detected on a first impaired driving offence, a minimum $1,000 fine would be imposed, with increasingly harsher penalties such as jail time for subsequent offences. The rules also impose penalties for combined alcohol cannabis use of 2.5 ng/ml of THC with a blood alcohol level of .05.
THC is main psychoactive compound in cannabis.
Those are among the changes that would take effect when the federal government has its legislation in place.
Police don't have a roadside test for cannabis impairment yet, but saliva based screening has been under development.
Mason said drivers shouldn't consume cannabis at least 24 hours before getting behind the wheel.
"The cannabis enforcement mirrors what we do with alcohol," he added.
There would be zero tolerance for new drivers under Alberta's graduated licensing rules.
Alberta's legislation will also include other changes to take effect Feb. 1.
Currently, impaired drivers with a blood alcohol measuring over .08 face an indefinite suspension. The Traffic Safety Act will be updated to impose a fixed term suspension - drivers who are impaired by alcohol or drugs will lose their licences for 90 days. After the suspension period, drivers will be able to choose between a one year ignition interlock program or they can wait out the year long suspension.
The province had until May 2018 to change the rule in response to an Alberta Court of Appeal ruling earlier this year that found indefinite suspensions violated Charter rights.
The Alberta Motor Transport Association will push for a zero tolerance approach to cannabis use among professional drivers, said spokesman Dan Duckering.
Brenda Johnson, spokeswoman for Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada, praised the legislation, but said the legalization of cannabis will make roads more dangerous.
"We've dealt with alcohol for over 30 years now in this country and our roads still aren't safer," she said.
A separate piece of legislation on cannabis sales is expected Thursday. The government is opting for a hybrid system including private stores and online sales that are controlled by government, according to sources.