Marijuana Legalization – Good or Bad For Accident Victims?
This Blog was written with contributions from Kirsten O’Brien, Patient Services Educator at Medical Marijuana Consulting.
The forthcoming legalization of marijuana in the summer of 2018 will have wide ranging implications for the law in several areas, including personal injury law. In this blog we consider marijuana legalization and its potential impact on roadway safety and personal injury victims.
A major cause of motor vehicle accidents and serious injury is impaired driving. The legalization of marijuana will create new challenges for the government and police authorities. They will have to work quickly to ensure provisions are in place to identify and prevent drivers from operating a vehicle under the influence of cannabis – the detection of this type of intoxication comes with unique challenges as the use of marijuana will have different symptoms and effects on drivers than alcohol intoxication.
The passage of Canada’s proposed Bill C- 46 will establish regulations for police to administer tests of blood drug concentration (BDC) levels in addition to the traditional tests for blood alcohol concentration (BAC). The new law will result in additional offences related to driving impaired by drug use and provide a list of drugs besides alcohol to be included as an offence. The objective of the new legislation with respect to driving under the influence of marijuana is to take a preventative approach.
The Canadian governments regulatory impact analysis statement states with respect to marijuana impairment:
“It should be noted that THC is a more complex molecule than alcohol and the science is unable to provide general guidance to drivers about how much cannabis can be consumed before it is unsafe to drive or before the proposed levels would be exceeded. It is equally challenging to provide general advice as to how long a driver should wait to drive after consuming cannabis. In this context, the safest approach for anyone who chooses to consume cannabis is to not mix their consumption with driving.”
The BDC testing will mean that police will be able to detect and curb the potential risks of driving under the influence of other drugs that could affect the safe operation of a motor vehicle, including cocaine and methamphetamines, and combination drugs or drug/alcohol impairment will also be included as a hybrid offence. For THC the compound in marijuana which causes impairment to driving abilities, the regulations will provide police with the ability to penalize any driver with a BDC level for THC found to be at 5 nanograms (ng) per millilitre of blood within 2 hours of driving. If combined with alcohol half that level is sufficient for a hybrid impairment offence of drug/alcohol. The level is also lower if there is any trace of a list of other “impairing” drug found in the blood.
Bill C-46 is a good first step in introducing a regulatory framework to keep road users safe and increasing impairment related accident prevention and road safety measures ahead of the legalization of recreational marijuana use in Canada.
One of the more promising benefits of relaxed prohibition, is that marijuana as a treatment option for a variety of accident-related ailments continues to expand, as does the research related to the benefits of this treatment. Marijuana has been recognized as a viable alternative treatment option to the traditional pharmaceutical treatments that are offered by many general practitioners and pain clinics. Conditions for which it has already been approved as a treatment option include: chronic pain conditions, including pain caused by nerve damage (neuropathic) or by damage to body tissue (nociceptive); mental health related issues that may arise from an accident such as depression, anxiety, PTSD; and sleep disturbances.
The result is that medical marijuana is gradually being recommended by treatment providers as an alternative to the opioid based pain killers which have too often been readily prescribed and end up unfortunately, doing more harm than good to many accident victims due to their addictive nature and the negative impact they have on organs.
With many victims of accidents, opioids are considered the first and only therapeutic intervention for immediate relief of chronic pain. However, this attitude has caused an epidemic of opiate abuse and addiction among those seeking relief for their chronic conditions. With this epidemic of addiction comes an equally troubling epidemic of overdoses, all in the name of pain relief. Comparatively, marijuana carries an addiction rate of 9%, without a single recorded overdose fatality. There are also strains of medical marijuana that carry no psychoactive effects but have been found to be very effective for pain relief. This means that clients can have the relief they are seeking without the intoxication that comes with prescription pain killers.
Insurers, treatment providers and rehabilitation centres alike have all been gradually embracing marijuana as a treatment option, and treatment plans submitted which include marijuana therapy have begun to see approval from the insurance industry. This is in part due to the continuing education of both treatment providers and adjusters with regards to medical marijuana and the huge benefits it can provide to those that are involved in the treatment of accident-related injuries. Through this continuation of education, insurers and treatment providers can provide their clients with a new approach to pain relief that can significantly improve quality of life and assist with compliance in other treatments.
Traditionally in our personal injury cases we have seen defence lawyers usually frame the use of marijuana as “illegal drug use”. The aim of this strategy was to socially stigmatize accident victims who turn to marijuana to self-medicate for their accident related injuries as “criminals”. With the pending legalization and the already widening acceptance of marijuana as a medical treatment option, we are beginning to see this stigmatization strategy becoming less effective, as health practitioners, medical experts, jury members and judges, begin to accept marijuana as a legitimate form of treatment for injury related issues.
Kelly + Singh Lawyers LLP is a civil litigation firm with over 30 years of experience offering personal injury representation across the greater Toronto and greater Hamilton areas, Kitchener, Waterloo and Guelph. For more information check out our website at www.kellysinghlaw.com
Medical Marijuana Consulting (MMC) is a medical clinic offering services in both the prescribing and obtaining coverage for medical cannabis. MMC is a patient-centric clinic devoted to education and advocacy for many patients across Canada who choose medical marijuana as a treatment option for their chronic conditions. For more information check out our website at www.medmg.ca