A wrongful arrest due to cannabis isn’t unheard of. A Staten Island cop kept planting cannabis in people’s cars despite the NYPD clearing him of any wrongdoing.
In Canada, police use various tests to decide if your driving is “impaired” by cannabis.
But, of course, as anyone can find out through three seconds of research, THC binds to your fat cells. So you could smoke one joint in July and fail a urine test in September.
Suppose you’re shaken up after a car accident. Who wouldn’t be? Shock and head injury symptoms can result in balance problems, fumbling, slurred speech, and general “brain fog.”
But suppose police notice this, and instead of concluding that you’re in shock, they demand a field sobriety test, which you fail, and then arrest you.
Sound far-fetched? Well, that happened to Pam Staples-Wilkinson in March 2021.
Pam Staples-Wilkinson was a victim of a wrongful arrest due to the police‘s inability to distinguish shock from cannabis impairment.
Police asked Pam to perform a three-step test that involved walking, a one-leg stand, and a simple eye test.
On March 16, 2021, the same night of her car accident, police decided to arrest her under the suspicion of driving impaired.
Police took her to their headquarters. A “drug expert” confirmed she was impaired. Because she failed two physical tests, they required Pam to provide a urine sample.
Pam lost her licence for seven days and had an impaired driving charge on her record for nine months. Nine months after the accident, the urine samples came back clean.
She had no THC in their system. The police‘s incompetence regarding cannabis meant Pam got wrongfully arrested.
But imagine if Pam was a connoisseur. Or even a casual toker. Her urine test may have come back positive. Then where would she be?
Blood Samples instead of Urine Samples
Lawyers and civil rights activists aren’t happy with the Fredericton Police Force. This wrongful arrest due to confusing shock with cannabis impairment does not bode well for civil rights in Canada.
Advocates are suggesting police use blood samples instead of urine samples.
A blood sample provides more accurate results about what is in the bloodstream and in what concentration.
Advocates also want the federal government to speed up the processing system so victims like Pam don’t have criminal charges hanging over their heads for months. Especially when a blood sample can be taken and analyzed in a day.
CBC News reached out to the Fredericton Police Force. Like the rest of us, they want to know how something like this could have happened.
How could police be so stupid as to confuse shock and a head injury for cannabis impairment? And not just one officer but two. The so-called “drug expert” downtown isn’t worth the taxpayer-funded salary.
Of course, the Fredericton Police Force responded that “the matter was investigated and concluded, and we will not be doing any follow up on the story.”
How convenient. Too bad the good people of Fredericton can’t patronize competitor services. Imagine if a private insurance company acted this way.
First, they screw up royally. Then, the media asks for clarification. And they say, “no thanks, we’re done here.”
And people wonder why “defund the police” is such a popular meme.
Wrongful Arrest Due to Cannabis
How many wrongful arrests have the police made due to their inability to distinguish head trauma from cannabis impairment?
If I had been in Pam’s situation, I would be up shit creek without a paddle. A urine test would reveal THC in my fat cells. But would I be impaired at the time of the accident?
This gets to an even deeper question: what exactly is cannabis impairment?
Consider what Professor Iain McGregor, Academic Director of the Lambert Initiative, told an Australian Senate committee.
“Cannabis and driving is actually a very complicated area. The tendency is to look at it through the prism of alcohol, but there are actually almost diametrically opposite effects for cannabis relative to alcohol. With alcohol, people overestimate their ability and tend to take risks as a result. With cannabis, people actually feel impaired.”
Cannabis and driving fall into two categories.
First, we have the connoisseurs who use THC, like one uses caffeine. These people are no threat, and police will only discover their “impairment,” if they test for it (which we’ve now established is incredibly faulty and untrustworthy).
The second category is the one Professor McGregor refers to. If you haven’t smoked in a few days, and you get behind the wheel of a car, the impairment you feel will benefit your driving skills.
“When they do drive, there are quite reliable effects like a lower speed and a bigger distance between them and the car in front. Then, when you look at the crash risk associated with cannabis, it’s moderately increased but it’s a very, very small statistical effect compared to alcohol and even compared to some prescription medications that are commonly prescribed like benzodiazepines and sedating antidepressants like mirtazapine.”
Wrongful Arrest Due to Police Incompetency Regarding Cannabis
Pam’s wrongful arrest due to cannabis is more about police incompetency than whether our detection methods are reliable.
We as a country could quickly solve this problem by getting governments out of the road business.
As Professor Walter Block of Loyola University wrote, “Privatize the avenues of vehicular transportation, and rely upon the new owners, under the tutelage of the free enterprise profit-and-loss system, to find solutions.”
Private owners may find that cannabis impairment has such a “small statistical effect compared to alcohol” that it’s not worth enforcement.