Driving under the influence of pot a concern

By Monte Sonnenberg, Simcoe Reformer


Health and law enforcement officials are drilling down on all the data they can get now that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Canada is drawing near.

Earlier this month, Norfolk council heard that 43 per cent of Norfolk and Haldimand residents have tried marijuana or hashish at least once in their lifetime.

This compares with 39 per cent of all Ontarians.

Statistics Canada gathered these findings in 2015 through the Canadian Community Health Survey.

The same survey found that 36 per cent of Haldimand and Norfolk residents used cannabis more than once in their lifetime. This compares with 31.5 per cent of Ontarians in general.

The report was compiled by Michelle Lyne, a program manager with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit.

Lyne shared her report with Norfolk council Dec. 5 during a Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health meeting. Norfolk council serves as the board of health for the two counties because of Norfolk’s larger population.

Frequency of use is important, Lyne says, because regular use increases the risk of certain detrimental effects.

This includes impairment of short-term memory, which gives rise to forgetfulness and makes learning difficult.

Marijuana also impairs motor skills. This increases the likelihood of crashes on the highway and workplace accidents where hand-eye co-ordination and alertness are important.

The health unit also draws a correlation between marijuana use and “impaired judgement increasing the risk of sexual behaviour, facilitating the transmission of sexually-transmitted infections.”

“The long-term heavy use of cannabis can result in addiction, altered brain development, poor IQ and poor educational outcomes with increased likelihood of dropping out of school,” Lyne says in her report.

“These long-term effects are strongly associated with initial cannabis use in early adolescence.”

The ease with which teenagers access marijuana is the primary reason the Trudeau government will legalize it for recreational purposes.

Ottawa’s plan is to regulate marijuana like alcohol and sell it at a price that drives organized crime out of the black market.

To this end, the federal government has done its own research and released some of its findings this week.

Between March and May of this year, Health Canada surveyed 9,215 Canadians about their knowledge and attitudes toward marijuana.

A key concern is that legalizing marijuana for general consumption will increase the prevalence of road-related injuries and fatalities. Federal officials were not impressed that 19 per cent of survey respondents don’t believe that marijuana would affect their ability to drive.

“Driving while impaired by cannabis or other drugs is dangerous and illegal,” Ralph Goodale, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness in the Trudeau cabinet, said in a news release this week.

“The message is simple – don’t drive high.”

Another key finding is that smoking is, by far, the most popular means of consuming marijuana in Canada. A total of 94 per cent of respondents who consumed marijuana in the past year said they lit up. A total of 34 per cent said they have consumed cannabis as a food product.

Organizers of the Canadian Cannabis Survey went out of their way to seek respondents with a history of marijuana use. As such, they caution about extrapolating these findings to the general population.

In an interview this week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed that marijuana will be legalized for recreational purposes next July. Trudeau cautioned this will not necessarily occur on July 1 as many assume but most likely later in the month.