What Does Canada's Marijuana Legalization Mean for Impaired Driving Rates?

As a Canadian motorist, you must contend with countless dangers on the open road. Now that the nation has legalized recreational marijuana, you could find yourself up against even more risks, but not necessarily for the reasons that you might assume. Impaired driving charges may be on the rise as the country takes its first steps towards a more sensible drug policy. This means the need for impaired driving lawyers will also be in high demand. Here's what you should know.

What Is Impaired Driving?

Impaired driving is the criminal act of operating an ATV, truck, boat, aircraft, car or other vehicles while under the influence of drugs. Common impaired driving examples include things like going out for a night of drinking and then driving yourself home. Or you might consume a cannabis edible and drive without waiting long enough for the main psychoactive ingredient, THC, to pass out of your system.

Understanding Impaired Driving Charges

Traditionally, police officers used a variety of methods to determine whether a driver was impaired, including

  • Collecting blood, saliva and breath samples,
  • Making motorists complete standardized field sobriety tests, and
  • Relying on visual observations or reports of drivers' behavior.

The results of any of these tests or observations could be used as evidence to level charges against you. Since there are different types of impaired driving, officers have some leeway to determine how best to evaluate motorists. With the legalization of cannabis, however, the laws are shifting to grant officers more power to assess how impaired or intoxicated drivers are.

Changes to Impaired Driving Enforcement

The Royal Assent of bill C-46 in June brought about three major changes that are set to impact who receives impaired driving charges. These include the implementation of

  • Roadside saliva testing to detect the presence of THC, methamphetamine and cocaine,
  • Random roadside alcohol breath testing, and
  • THC blood level limits.

There are some important impaired driving facts that you should understand about these changes. For instance, although the new roadside alcohol testing regime authorizes the police to test anyone at will, authorities still need reasonable suspicion to collect THC saliva samples. This reflects the fact that THC impacts each person differently. As of now, the government is still trying to identify appropriate testing devices and procedures.

New Impaired Driving Penalties

As noted by Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, the science doesn't completely agree about what constitutes cannabis-impaired driving.[3] Nonetheless, regulators have already put forth THC blood-content penalties similar to those associated with alcohol impairment.

It doesn't take much cannabis to find yourself over the new limits. For instance, having more than 5 Nano grams of THC per milliliter of blood carries mandatory minimum first-time sentences with increasing prison terms for subsequent offences. Different provinces can also impose their own punishments in addition to the national rules.

At this stage, impaired driving Ontario regulations are far from perfect. The national and provincial governments seem fairly keen on maintaining strict rules, however, you could get caught by the new laws even if you're not actually impaired. If you're facing charges, then talking to impaired driving lawyers may be the only way to avoid tough penalties while Canada is ironing out the kinks.