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What Effect Does Marijuana Have on Driving?

Canada recently passed legislation legalizing marijuana throughout the country. This doesn't mean that there are no consequences for using cannabis before driving, however. Marijuana use can affect your judgment and lead to severe legal consequences if a police officer determines that you were driving while impaired. Does cannabis impair driving? The answer is absolutely if you don't give yourself enough time before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. Here are the facts about marijuana use, how it affects your driving, and what you can do if you get arrested for driving while impaired by cannabis.

What Happens When You Drive While High?

So what happens to a person who winds up driving while high? The use of marijuana impairs virtually every intellectual and perceptive function. This not only includes the judgment centers of the brain, but also vision and attention span. When inhibited by marijuana, the human brain can't recognize visual stimulus as effectively. This means that you can't react to the things you see as quickly as normal. In addition, driving high on cannabis makes it harder to focus on what's going on in front of you. This level of fractured attention makes it more likely that you will miss something on the road, be it another car, an obstruction, or a street sign.

Cannabis Compared to Alcohol

While cannabis and driving is always a bad combination, it is worth noting that it is not worse than the impairing effects of alcohol. Researchers in both Canada and the United States have done extensive comparisons between marijuana and alcohol since the mid 1990s, and drug-impaired driving compares roughly to mild intoxication by alcohol. Nonetheless, any level of impaired driving still runs the risk of a fine, loss of licence, or even jail time. If you get arrested for driving under the influence of cannabis, the fact that you could have been more of a danger won't help your case in court. The best course of action is to make sure you are not impaired at all before driving. If you do make a mistake or get pulled over despite being sober, then it's time to seek out an impaired driving lawyer who can help you.

Pot and Driving FAQ

Even though the marijuana laws in Canada are relatively new, research on the effects of driving after consuming cannabis has been ongoing for years. If you aren't sure about the finer details of using marijuana and driving, refer to the pot and driving FAQ below.

Is Smoking Marijuana the Only Dangerous Way to Use Pot Before Driving?

No. Cannabis comes in many forms. It can be smoked or baked into food, and taking it in any form can cause you to be arrested for drug impaired driving in Canada. You should always make sure that you know what is in your food if you think there might be a risk of eating snacks that have marijuana in it. There is no quick and easy way to test for marijuana in baked goods, so make sure to use your best judgment. In addition to cigarettes, pot is often baked into cookies, brownies, and other baked goods. If you find yourself at a party or other social gathering where you notice an unusual taste in your food, ask your host about the ingredients. When in doubt, err on the side of caution for your sake and others'.

What are the Signs of a Marijuana High?

If you get pulled over by a police officer who thinks you might be guilty of drug impaired driving in Canada, the officer will look for certain signs. This includes red eyes, trouble speaking, or acting in a sedate or drowsy manner. Most significantly, a police officer will watch your eyes. A person impaired by marijuana often has pupils that move erratically, which an officer is trained to recognize. Wearing sunglasses isn't an effective way to defend against this. In fact, a police officer is likely to see that as a potential sign of a cannabis DUI, especially if you wear sunglasses while driving at night.

What are the Penalties for Driving While Impaired by Cannabis?

The new impaired driving laws in Canada cover alcohol, cannabis, and impaired driving with prescription drugs. No matter what the substance, you run the risk of losing your driver's licence after even a first offence, although the loss of licence is only a few days at first. In a worst case scenario, you can be required to pay a fine of $1,000 or more, lose your licence for months, and spend up to 60 days in jail. However, you should bear in mind that the arresting officer cannot take you licence away for a marijuana DUI at the traffic stop. The exact punishment will be determined after the fact, which is why you need to secure the services of an impaired driving lawyer after a traffic stop.

What Should I Do if I Get Pulled Over for Driving While High?

It's easy for a listing of cannabis DUI questions and answers to remind you not to drive while high, but what if you make a mistake or don't realize how much cannabis is in your system? First of all, you should make sure not to give the arresting officer a reason to elevate the charges against you. While you might realize that taking a driving high test could lead to you being caught driving high, resisting arrest or disobeying a police officer's orders can lead to bigger problems for you. Cooperate with the arresting officer, but don't volunteer additional information unless prompted. Cooperation doesn't mean willingly incriminating yourself.

If you get busted for driving high, do your best to keep track of everything that happens from the moment you get pulled over to your interactions with the police officer and any trip to the police station. The more details you have, the more information you can provide to your impaired driving lawyer. The lawyer will compare your account to the police report and determine whether there were discrepancies or violations of protocol during your arrest. A surprising number of cases that go to court get thrown out due to procedural errors, and impaired driving lawyers exist partly to make sure that those who were treated unfairly get the justice they deserve.

What Other Consequences are There for Driving While High?

As mentioned above, getting high before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle impairs you, but not to the degree that alcohol does. Regardless, the answer to the question, "Is it safe to driving while high?" is absolutely not. Nothing that impairs your judgment while behind the wheel of a vehicle is safe. In addition, marijuana often comes with a distinctive odour and certain tell-tale signs of its use that make it easy for a police officer to identify somebody who is impaired. From smell to appearance, simply smoking marijuana or imbibing cannabis in another way opens you up to more scrutiny from a police officer.

Can You Go to Jail for Driving While High?

So what is the penalty for driving high? If you are a first-time offender, you receive a three-day suspension of your driver's licence and a fine of $250. Reoffending within five years increases the fine to $350 and the licence suspension to seven days. Additional violations within five years can result in a $450 fine, a 30-day licence suspension, and potential jail time or mandatory training. Refusing to take an impairment test actually comes with higher penalties and can result in a suspension of your licence for 90 days, a significant fine, and the requirement to have an ignition interlock device on your car. While the answer to the question, "Can you go to jail for driving high?" is usually no, multiple offences or causing injury as a result of your impairment can indeed land you in jail.

How Long Does Marijuana Stay in Your System?

So if it's never safe to drive after using marijuana, how long after getting high can you drive? Unlike alcohol, there is no hard and fast rule to how long you should wait after cannabis gets in your system before you are not at risk of an impaired driving arrest. It is known that marijuana stays in your system longer than alcohol, even though the effects of intoxication are lessened. Generally speaking, modern research suggests that you wait at least three hours before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle, just to be on the safe side.

You can avoid an impaired driving charge after using marijuana by taking certain steps to protect yourself. Arranging for a designated driver or calling a cab are both good options. If you do find yourself in a position where you have to drive, give yourself enough time to get the cannabis out of your system. If you do make a mistake, don't despair. Cooperating with the officer while protecting yourself by reaching out to a lawyer is a good way to turn a bad situation into a manageable one.