Even though cannabis and cannabis use are now legal, many residents are still unclear about how this new legislation will affect them.
The Penticton Western News had the opportunity to sit down with Donald Skogstad (his answers shown as DS below), an Okanagan-based criminal lawyer with 39 years of experience, who helped clear up some of this confusion.
Q: First of all, how much cannabis can a recreational user possess? And in what form are residents allowed to possess cannabis?
DS: B.C. is one of the jurisdictions that let’s you grow the federal maximum of four plants — but there’s no maximum size. But the province has imposed a restriction on personal growing that means it cannot be in public view.
You can certainly grow it inside, you might be able to grow it in a greenhouse that has been whitewashed, or if you live in the country you can grow it outside openly. Recreationally, a dispensary is only legally allowed to sell 30 grams at a time, which is about an ounce.
The only product available at the moment, along with dried cannabis, is called weed oil. It’s important to remember there are federal and provincial restrictions and you’ll be subject to the most restrictive of them.
Q: So how can adults get cannabis?
DS: Right now in B.C. there aren’t any dispensaries, except the one in Kamloops. B.C. that distributes all the marijuana through the B.C. Liquor Distribution Branch.
This is different in every province, but B.C. has decided to have a mixture of B.C. standalone dispensaries, not attached to liquor stores. But none of these are ready to open (except for Kamloops), but there will be private dispensaries as well eventually once they can get their licences.
In the meantime, there will be mail orders available from licensed producers through the B.C. Liquor Board.
Q: Ok, so say I purchase marijuana from the Kamloops dispensary, how do I legally transport it? Or what if I’m bringing a bong with residue on it to a private residence, am I at risk of being ticketed?
DS: It’s going to be exactly the same (as driving with alcohol). It has to be sealed and needs to be a safe distance from the driver.
And B.C., along with other provinces, have also legislated that there is no smoking in a car.
In terms of residue, it’s considered by the law to be too small an amount to be concerned about — it’s a useful product.
So if you’re an adult and you have less than the recreational maximum, which is 30 grams, and it’s out of reach of the driver (and sealed) you’re fine.
Q: And what exactly is happening with DUI testing for cannabis users operating motor vehicles? What about long-term or daily cannabis users that have built up a certain amount of cannabis in their system but are not driving under the influence?
DS: This is catastrophically difficult. The federal government has set up a new offence for people registering with under two mg in their system, which is really questionable whether you’re impaired.
But they are actually not covering under the criminal code for that, which I’ve never seen before, because that requires a blood test. Not everyone can be given a blood test and not every station is capable of taking a blood test. So that particular offence it looks like it will be $1,000 fine and no suspension and no criminal record.
Ideally, they’d like to catch impaired drivers at the roadside quickly with these Draeger machines, but that’s the first problem. They are $6,000 each, so how many detachments are going to buy them and how quickly can they get them to the stopped driver?
Because if you’re stopped, the law says you cannot keep people waiting on the roadside for tests for a long time, and you can’t deprive people from their lawyers.
Not to mention the Draeger can take six to 20 minutes to analyze your saliva so they’re probably going to violate that law about roadside testing.
So let’s say they do get your blood reading at the station and it’s over five mg, which is considered impairment, that’s just in your blood. A chronic user or a medical user who uses it daily is going to have that level in the blood and not be impaired.
That’s not an accurate reference as to whether you’re impaired. It’s a mess, but there is no question that using marijuana and driving slows judgment.
You are 1.4 times more likely of getting in an accident if you drive high, and you are eight times more likely to get into one if you drive drunk. There is a whole other way to deal with high driving that’s been around for years called a drug recognition expert.
So for any kind of drug they’ll give you a roadside test and check the pigment of your eyes, which is a screening test.
If you fail that one, there’s no blood or saliva or Draeger machine involved, but you go back to the station and they check you breathing, heartbeat and more.
So, if you fail that, then that’s a criminal offence they can charge you with and what they’ll likely use most.
Q: OK so can I cross the border into the U.S. with cannabis? Can I leave Canada at all with cannabis in my possession?
DS: No, it is illegal under their federal law, even if it’s legal in the state that you’re entering.
But you could still purchase it legally in that state once you’ve crossed the border and the feds won’t be bothered.
The only time you can leave Canada with marijuana is if you’re a distributor with an export permit.
Q: Alright, so where can I legally smoke cannabis then, just in my own home?
DS: B.C. says there is no smoking in cars or near playgrounds and schools, but you can smoke marijuana anywhere you can smoke cigarettes.
However, as I mentioned before, the most restrictive law applies. So for residents of West Kelowna and Lake Country, they can only smoke in a private place. So no matter what the provincial laws, they are still restricted to just private residences.
Even if they are at an arena, for example, with a smoking area, they will not be allowed to smoke marijuana there.
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