Sask.'s zero-tolerance policy will hurt medical marijuana users, Crohn's patient says

Saskatchewan plans to introduce a zero-tolerance policy on drug-impaired driving, but medicinal marijuana user Kelly Csada and criminal defence lawyer Mark Brayford are raising concerns about what that will mean for people who rely on pot to treat medical conditions.

'I never want to go back to the way I had to live before,' says Kelly Csada

Kelly Csada said most people who use marijuana medicinally rely on CBD (cannabidiol) treatments, like the elixir pictured, to treat their conditions. (CBC)

A medicinal marijuana patient says Saskatchewan's zero-tolerance policy on drug-impaired driving is disconcerting. 

Kelly Csada uses cannabis for her Crohn's disease. 

The disease is in remission for the first time, a status Csada says she wasn't able to reach during her years on various other narcotics and prescriptions. 

For Csada, who owns Kelz Medical Services Corp. — a medical marijuana storefront — the thought of choosing between her medical marijuana and driving is stressful. 

"I don't want to have a flare-up. I never want to go back to the way I had to live before." 

The Saskatchewan government introduced legislation outlining its zero-tolerance policy Tuesday, which comes as the province gears up for legalized recreational marijuana.

The legislation would result in immediate suspension of a driver's licence after being charged with one of the three new Criminal Code charges under Bill C-46.

The driver's vehicle would also be seized for 30 days — 60 days if the driver is also impaired by alcohol and has a blood alcohol concentration over .16.

Under the new legislation, a conviction for driving while impaired by cannabis would bring a driving suspension of one to five years and penalties ranging from $1,250 to $2,500 under SGI's Safe Driver Recognition program.

But Csada said the legislation will also affect people who rely on cannabis for their health.

The provincial and federal governments eventually hope to have technology in place to monitor the level of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) in the blood of someone behind the wheel.

Some of the levels being looked at are between two and five nanograms for legal impairment.

Csada isn't optimistic about those levels. 

"I'm not compromised during the day, but I know if I was tested I would be over the two to five nanograms," she said. 

"I take my grandkids to the movies. What if I got pulled over? And they're like, 'That's it, you're over.' I'm not compromised. I used my medication the night before." 

Kelly Csada, the owner of Kelz Medical Services Corp., says cannabis-infused oil has helped her battle with Crohn's disease. She's concerned about what a zero-tolerance policy will mean for medicinal marijuana patients like herself. (CBC)

Csada said most patients she encounters at her shop take their medication at night. Furthermore, many don't smoke it — rather, they use oils, salves and even suppositories.

"Even if they use that during the day, they're not compromised but they're going to be over the nanograms."  

Csada herself eats a small does of THC oil at nighttime. In the morning, she takes a small amount of the non-psychoactive CBD (cannabidiol) oil in three drops of an elixir under her tongue.  

"I can't imagine not being able to get in my car and go somewhere when I need to be somewhere."

On the left is a one gram syringe of Rick Simpson THC Oil. Beside it is a one gram syringe of Rick Simpson CBD oil, next to a CBD tincture. Kelly Csada takes rice grain-sized doses of the oil. In the morning, she uses the non-psychoactive CBD oil and a few drops of the elixir. At night, she uses a combination of the THC and CBD oil. (CBC)

Csada also raised concerns about the proposed legal limit because of how cannabis is metabolized in the body. She said test results can vary for each person, even if they consumed the same amount at the same time.

"It stores in our fat cells," she said.

"To have a test or do a swab and say, 'That's it, you're over,' I think it's going to bring a lot of court cases and people challenging those."

'No close correlation' between THC levels in blood and impairment

Saskatoon criminal defence lawyer Mark Brayford has also cast doubt on the proposed legal limits.

"There's no close correlation between the level of the THC in one's blood and the level of impairment," Brayford told CBC Radio's The Afternoon Edition on Tuesday. 

Brayford said he supports the province in its efforts to make the penalties known for impaired driving, in regard to vehicle suspensions, licence suspensions and monetary penalties. 

"We have the harshest penalties around," Brayford said. 

Mark Brayford said there is no correlation between the level of THC in a person's blood and their level of impairment. (Charles Hamilon/CBC)

Some of penalties include a zero-tolerance alcohol policy for new drivers even though the provincial limit for experienced drivers is a BAC of .04.

New drivers found to have alcohol in their system receive a licence suspension of 60 days and have their vehicle impounded for three days on the first offence.

Brayford takes issue with the fact that Saskatchewan drivers have their licences suspended or vehicles impounded before they have their day in court. 

"It's not fair. In Canada, we have this presumption of innocence — that you're innocent unless they can prove you're guilty after a fair trial."

Mark Brayford said the decision to suspend a driver's licence from the time they're charged with impaired driving until after their trial and/or sentence is unfair. (CBC)