Ex-Liberal treasurer putting up $25K to fight drug-impaired driving law

The Liberal Party's former treasurer is vowing to use his own money to fight the government's new drug-impaired driving laws.

Liberal government insists tougher laws are needed to keep the country’s roads safe

Chuck Rifici helped found Canopy Growth out of Smith Falls, Ont. and now runs the Auxly Cannabis Group and the Nesta Holding Company, a private equity firm that invests in the cannabis industry. (CBC)

The Liberal Party's former treasurer is vowing to use his own money to fight the government's new drug-impaired driving laws.

Chuck Rifici now runs Nesta Holding Co., a private equity firm that invests in the cannabis industry. He's committing $25,000 of his own funds to back a legal challenge of Canada's updated impaired driving laws.

He's found a lawyer, Kirk Tousaw, willing to take on the case. Next step: finding the perfect plaintiff.

"Typically, it involves finding the best plaintiff to try to advance the case and the government, as they had in the past, will most likely appeal it all the way to the Supreme Court. So it will be a longer battle," said Rifici, who also helped start Canopy Growth, one of the most valuable cannabis companies in the world.

"Certainly I've been fortunate to do quite well in the cannabis industry, and I think it's just a small thing I can do and I feel passionate about creating a better policy for cannabis impairment."

Bill C-46, in effect since Parliament passed it in June, introduced new drug-related offences for drivers who have consumed drugs within two hours of driving.

A driver found to have at least two nanograms, and less than five nanograms, of THC per millilitre of blood could face a maximum fine of up to $1,000. (THC is the primary psychoactive found in cannabis.)

A driver caught with a blood THC level of more than five nanograms, or found to have been drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis at the same time, faces a fine and the prospect of jail time. In more serious cases, a drug-impaired driver could face up to 10 years behind bars if convicted.

All of these charges require a positive blood test from a suspect before a Crown attorney can secure a conviction. 

Legal fund starting

Despite his Liberal ties — he was the party's chief financial officer from 2011 to June of 2016 —  Rifici said he thinks Bill C-46 draws an arbitrary line between impaired and not impaired.

"I'm all for drawing a line if there is a line to be found, of where the blood level equals impairment. And I don't think it's there" Rifici said.

"If you enjoy cannabis, as many Canadians will, let's say on a Friday night, you shouldn't be worried on Monday morning, when you are completely, 100 per cent not impaired."

Andrea Furlan, an associate professor in the department of medicine at the University of Toronto, said that's a reasonable fear for some people.

"People may consume and it may stay in the blood system for a long time," she said. "The level in the blood, I don't think it's the best measure of impairment. There should be more measures of behaviours, how people are performing on some tasks. It varies from person to person. It depends also on how much they're using ...

"It's going to be difficult to determine one level for everybody."

Rifici said he plans to start a legal fund to help cover the ongoing court costs of the initial challenge and is calling on other players in the marijuana industry to contribute.

"There's no website yet, no call to action on where to send donations to, but I know many people have asked me on Twitter and social media platforms how they might contribute and so I imagine there will be some sort of donation portal that goes up over time," he said.

C-46 and the Charter

The Liberal government has long insisted tougher laws are needed to keep the country's roads safe. Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould maintains Bill C-46 complies with the Charter of Rights.

"One of my most important responsibilities as minister of Justice and Attorney General is to examine legislation for consistency with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. As I do with all legislation," she said.

"This legislation made the most significant changes to Canada's impaired driving laws in over three decades. The passage of C-46 by Parliament has helped make our roads safer, and will save lives."

In a media briefing late last week, government officials said they weren't certain whether there had been any instances of someone being charged with one of the new offences.

With files from the CBC's JP Tasker.

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