A Canadian law firm is distributing promotional car air fresheners to publicize new stoned driving laws that go into effect soon. The air fresheners were sent to clients of Acumen Law, a firm that specializes in impaired driving defense. The firm’s logo, phone number, and website address are printed on the air fresheners. A letter mailed with them encourages recipients to “place the Acu-freshener in your pocket so you smell fresh and delightful” if pulled over or are approaching a sobriety checkpoint, according to media reports. With the air fresheners, “you have our 24-hour phone number handy,” the letter notes.
Beginning December 18, police in Canada will be able to request a breath sample to test drivers for impairment during any lawful stop. Currently, officers must have a reasonable suspicion of impairment. Paul Doroshenko, a defense attorney at Acumen Law, said he believes the new law is going to cause confusion.
“The police are going to just make random demands for samples, and a lot of people understand the concept of the reasonable suspicion that they don’t have to blow unless the police officer has a reasonable suspicion,” Doroshenko said. “They’re going to find themselves in circumstances where they do not understand that they must provide a sample, as of December 18th, to any demand to a roadside alcohol breath tester.”
Doroshenko said that the air fresheners are a tool to protect innocent drivers.
“You can have the smell of marijuana, burnt cannabis in your clothing for days afterward. You can not be impaired in any way, shape, or form,” he said.
Doroshenko believes the federal government is “hellbent on trying to persecute Canadians who are not doing anything wrong,” and said the new law is unconstitutional. But he said the air fresheners are not a protest.
“It’s not a middle finger to law-makers at all,” Doroshenko said. “It’s that people don’t have the phone number of their lawyer.”
University of British Columbia law ethicist Andrew Martin said that the tip to employ the air freshener when approaching a checkpoint raises ethical questions.
“Lawyers have to be careful they don’t engage in any activity that assists or encourages dishonesty, crime, or fraud,” Martin said. “Helping them avoid a roadside test, that would be crossing the line into problematic conduct.”
He said the ethics of the advertising were in a grey area, “but probably the bad side of a grey area.”
“It’s hard to say with marijuana, because is the smell in the car the driver? Is the smell from the passengers? So it’s not necessarily obvious that the driver has done anything wrong, but to the extent the driver is trying to avoid a roadside test, that would be problematic,” Martin added.
Martin said that the promotion is not blatantly unethical but it “certainly is something that the Law Society of B.C. might be concerned about.”
“I can’t assume what they would do with it, but they could investigate and if they thought disciplinary proceedings were appropriate, they could pursue those,” Martin said.
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