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Upcoming Legalization of Marijuana Brings Legal Uncertainty to Drivers, Lawyers and Law Enforcement

The recent announcement that the Canadian government will legalize the use of recreational marijuana by July 1, 2018 has both pot smokers and non-users all abuzz. While the news is welcome to many, there remains a large amount of uncertainty as to what the legalization of pot means to the legal system. In fact, many are confused over the mixed messages the government is sending in regards to the recent passing and enforcement of impaired driving acts. While it remains unknown how these laws will change, it appears that the government intends continue enforcing strict penalties on drivers caught driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Drinking and driving lawyers in Toronto, as well as law enforcement officials, have brought up a few concerns over the legalization of pot and how it may impact drivers throughout Ontario.

Driving While Under the Influence of Marijuana Carries Strict Penalties

A recent study conducted by Health Canada indicated that 2.6% of drivers admitted to getting behind the wheel after using marijuana. With the impending legalization of the drug, it is likely that this number will grow higher. It's important to recognize that driving while under the influence of any sort of legal or illegal drug is considered to be the same as drunk driving in Toronto, as well as the rest of the province of Ontario. Some of the penalties that impaired drivers face include:

  • Fines,
  • License suspension,
  • Court ordered education and treatment programs,
  • Jail time.

These penalties are part of the Making Ontario's Roads Safer Act, so they are likely to remain in place after the legalization of marijuana.

Law Enforcement May Pull More Drivers Over

One expected impact of the legalization is that law enforcement officers will be pulling more people over for driving while impaired. This could have a significant impact on the court system, resulting in longer wait times for court cases. Another issue related to the increased number of impaired driving stops is that there may not be enough Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) to process impaired driving cases.

As of 2008, Canadian laws require that any driver suspected of being under the influence of drugs must be evaluated by a DRE. These officers are specially trained to recognize signs of drug use and have the power to require drivers to take a blood or urine test. DREs are currently in short supply. According to recent statistics, there are approximately 578 DREs in Canada, with a little less than 200 being added each year. With more cases being referred to DREs, there will be a significant backlog that will negatively impact the legal system.

There is No Recognized Legal Limit for Marijuana

Drunk driving in Toronto and the rest of Ontario is easier for law enforcement officers to prove, as there is a legal limit in place. With marijuana, the line is not as clear. As of now, there is no set limit for the amount of THC in a driver's system. This makes it incredibly difficult to prosecute those who are suspected of driving under the influence. What's more, since marijuana's impact can be different from person to person, it is harder to come up with a legal limit.

Testing May Not Be Reliable

Another factor that needs to be taken into consideration is the fact that drugs metabolize at a different rate than alcohol does. A person can test positive for drug use even if the drug was consumed hours beforehand and the person is no longer under the influence. This makes drug testing less reliable than the breathalyzer tests that are required in drinking and driving cases in Toronto and the rest of Canada.

While the exact effects of the legalization of pot in Canada are still unknown, it is important to understand that the penalties for driving under the influence of any drugs or alcohol will remain severe. Refraining from driving while under the influence is the best way to avoid the fines, suspensions and jail time specified under the laws.

If you find yourself in an unfortunate DUI situation – don't panic, we can help! Contact one of our DUI specialized lawyers today.