Medical Marijuana User Challenges Cannabis-related Driving Infraction

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VANCOUVER—One of B.C.’s first legal disputes since legalization over cannabis-related driving violations is headed to court for review.

A Victoria man received a 24-hour licence suspension for drug-impaired driving and a fine for possession of cannabis in a motor vehicle, according to Sarah Leamon, a partner at Leamon Roudette Law Group and a criminal defence lawyer specializing in impaired driving.

“It’s important for us to get some clarity on this and for us to understand how these laws are going to be applied and interpreted,” Leamon said.

The man asked the lawyers at Leamon Roudette to speak on his behalf and to keep his name confidential at this time, Leamon said.

According to Leamon, her firm’s client told the officer during the traffic stop that he had not used drugs or alcohol that day — a claim he still maintains. But he was nevertheless asked to step out of his vehicle after identifying himself as a federally licensed medical marijuana user, she said. A field sobriety test was issued by the officer, who concluded the man was impaired.

But the man obtained a medical marijuana licence in the first place because he found cannabis to be an effective treatment for pain and mobility issues associated with his rare arthritic spinal condition, Leamon said. It’s these mobility issues, the man suggested to his lawyer, that may have influenced the officer to erroneously conclude that he was impaired.

The standardized field sobriety test, according to the RCMP, consists of an eye examination, a “walk and turn” test and a “one leg stand” test.

But Bowen Osoko, community engagement lead for the Victoria Police Department, noted that a number of questions accompany those tests. One of those, he said, asks whether an individual has any medical conditions that could affect their ability to complete the tests.

The Victoria Police Department was unable to respond immediately to the rest of the man’s claims, though Osoko suggested there was very little they could offer by way of comment as the matter was being brought before the courts.

Leamon said her colleague was in the process of filing a petition for judicial review as she spoke.

Whereas a 24-hour suspension for alcohol-impaired driving can be resolved through an ICBC adjudicator, there is no such avenue to dispute a 24-hour drug-impaired driving suspension. Instead, such disputes may only be addressed by filing a petition for judicial review in the B.C. Supreme Court — a peculiarity of process Leamon said may be in need of reform.

“That’s something that the government might want to review in the future and determine whether or not they should be having an administrative review process for these kinds of offences,” she said.

The other infraction, cannabis possession, stems from what the man contends the officer told him was “cannabis residue” on the dashboard of his vehicle and was unrelated to any amount of cannabis being found on his person or in his car, said Leamon.

B.C.’s Cannabis Control and Licensing Act (CCLA) treats transporting cannabis by car in much the same way as alcohol. Open containers must not be accessible to the driver or passengers, and those containers that are within reach must be unopened and in their original packaging. But Leamon said her firm’s client disputes both that he had broken these laws and that there was any kind of residue on his dashboard.

A dispute has been filed for the man’s CCLA infraction, Leamon added, and a court date will be coming up at some point soon.

No police report on the incident is currently available. And while the man’s medical licence entitles him to be in possession of cannabis at all times due to his condition, there is a grey area regarding how federal and provincial laws might interact in cases like this one, Leamon said.

This grey area, she added, is only one of many, which makes even seemingly routine cases like this man’s traffic stop particularly important to examine as conflicts between brand-new and existing legislation at the provincial and federal levels start to emerge.

“This speaks to all of these little nuances and perhaps difficulties, growing pains, when a previously illegal substance becomes legalized,” she said. “There are a lot of little corners that need to be covered here, and this is just one of them.”

Source: The Star

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