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high fine - Smoking motorists to be burned with heavy fee for driving with ganja

Published:Tuesday | June 30, 2015 | 12:00 AMDaraine Luton
This could be a costly behaviour.

A MAJOR amendment is to be made to the Road Traffic Bill, with lawmakers now asked to consider legislating a fine of $10,000 for persons who smoke ganja and operate motor vehicles.

Stating that there is ample evidence to show that the use of ganja affects the responsiveness of people, Health Minister Dr Fenton Ferguson yesterday argued for the bill to make specific reference to the drug.

"Research shows that cannabis impairs their cognitive and psychomotor skills. Many countries such as the United States have adopted zero tolerance to marijuana while driving. The use of both alcohol and cannabis can significantly cause impairment to drivers," Ferguson said as he contributed to the debate on the bill in the House yesterday.

His Cabinet colleague, Dr Morais Guy, in closing the debate on the bill, told parliamentarians that the Government believes that it has "a responsibility to everyone in this country" to take account of the "mind-altering effect of ganja".

It is being proposed that if the person smokes ganja while driving, or smokes the weed while attempting to drive a motor vehicle on a road or other public place, he would be slapped with the $10,000 fine.

It has also been proposed that a person who contravenes the provision will not be jailed, but rather, be required to pay the fine at the Collector of Taxes.

"We feel that there is a responsibility, in as much as we have made the possession below two ounces a ticketable offence, we feel that we ought to have the obligation and the responsibility that people who are driving should not be smoking marijuana when they are driving," said Guy, who has ministerial responsibility for transport.

Parliament recently amended the Dangerous Drugs Act, making the possession of small amounts of ganja a ticketable, non-criminal offence. On hearing Guy's comment about the fine for driving, Opposition Member of Parliament Audley Shaw asked, "Is there no end to taxation?"

"Yuh legalise the weed and say if yuh drive with it, is $10,000," Shaw said sotto voce.

Earlier, Ferguson said that injuries and death related to motor vehicle crashes were not only preventable, but were a huge cost to the country's human and financial resources. He said that in 2013, there were 11,372 persons treated for accident-related injuries in public hospitals. The figure does not include those treated at the two largest trauma treatment centres, the Kingston Public Hospital and the University Hospital of the West Indies (UHWI).

"Since 2012, there has been an 11 per cent increase in road traffic injuries seen at the government hospitals," the minister said, adding that the cost of treating patients who required hospitalisation was staggering.

The minister pointed to the case of a 24-year-old male who racked up a cost of $4.6 million as a result of being in the intensive care unit at the UHWI for 30 days.

"In some instances, one out of three elective surgeries have to be postponed because of injuries related to these crashes," the minister said.

In addition to outlawing the smoking of ganja by drivers, the bill proposes stiff prosecution for novice drivers if their blood alcohol level exceeds 0.01 per cent. "During the first year of holding a driver's licence, the driver would be held at a higher standard of care, with conditions on breath alcohol content, highway driving, inter alia," the report of the joint select committee, which considered the bill, states.

Failure to comply with conditions during the first year will result in a $15,000 fine, and in default of payment, to 15 days' imprisonment.

Currently, any driver whose breath or blood exceeds 0.34 per cent is liable, in the case of a first conviction, to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or, in default of payment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months.