On October 17, 2018, it will be legal for anyone over the age of 19 to grow, possess and smoke cannabis in Canada. (with certain limitations of course) But there are still several questions about what the new “weed laws” will mean for drivers and insurance companies. The big question is, are we ready for legal cannabis in Canada?
Let’s take a look at the most common concerns people have about the Cannabis Act and how the legalization of marijuana could affect Canadian drivers.
What is The Cannabis Act?
To understand the laws surrounding cannabis in Canada, there are two separate parts of the legislation that you should be familiar with. The first is Bill C-45, also known as The Cannabis Act. This is the bill that will make marijuana in Canada legal as of October 17th. It also includes rules surrounding possession, distribution and regulation of cannabis in Canada.
The other important part for drivers is Bill C-46. This is the bill that includes changes to impaired driving legislation in response to The Cannabis Act. The purpose of Bill C-46 is to strengthen existing drug-impaired driving laws and increase police authority for testing and screening. But as you may already know, some of the changes have stirred controversy. We’ll get into that in a little more detail below.
How will the legalization of cannabis in Canada affect drivers?
This remains one of the most confusing and controversial topics. We all know that driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs is illegal. Nothing has changed there. But with the legalization of cannabis in Canada, will there be acceptable amounts of the drug that drivers can have in their system while driving? How will we determine what a safe amount is and when a driver is too high to drive? Should there just be a zero tolerance rule for drug-impaired drivers?
Blood-alcohol levels seem to be a little easier to predict based on consumption. What I mean is, in most cases, if you have one glass of wine while out at dinner, then you are most likely still within the legal limit to drive home. But how can we apply the same logic to marijuana use? If you have only one or two puffs are you still okay to drive?
Like with alcohol, the best approach is always just to refrain from consuming it if you are planning to drive. But, we all know that this is not a rule that everyone follows 100% of the time.
So, what’s the “legal limit” for driving under the influence of marijuana?
In short, the maximum amount of THC per millilitre of blood that is acceptable while driving is <2 nanograms. Anything over this amount and you are not legally allowed to drive. The revised legislation includes penalties for drug-impaired driving that are broken into three categories. Check out the chart below.
Will fines for drug-impaired driving be the same as alcohol-impaired driving?
Although penalties for drug-impaired driving are a little different, the maximum penalties will be similar to alcohol impaired driving. Convictions will also be considered when determining your car insurance rate.
How will police know if drivers are high?
Under the new legislation, police officers will be authorized to use oral fluid screening devices at roadside. They will also continue to use the same field sobriety tests (like walking a straight line, touching your nose, etc.) that have been used for decades. In response, the federal government has pledged $161 million dollars in funding for police training and drug-testing equipment over the next five years, as well as a public awareness campaigns about the dangers of driving while high.
How reliable are the sobriety tests police use?
Field sobriety testing is largely based on police officer’s opinions and observations. And it has been this way for decades. This is one of the reasons charges for drug-impaired driving often do not hold up in court. In fact, 40% of charges in Ontario are dropped. (Statistics Canada, 2016)
Even the new roadside saliva tests have flaws. Although these tests can determine if someone used THC within about 2 to 12 hours, they can’t determine the exact time that the drugs were used. This makes it difficult to determine if someone was actually impaired at the time they were stopped by police.
Furthermore, some studies have also shown that these devices can return a false positive around 7% of the time. That’s a lot! And if the weather is cold, the results can be even more inaccurate. Essentially, while these saliva testing devices can show the presence of drugs in the body, they are not 100% accurate, and they cannot detect the level of impairment by those drugs.
If you smoke weed, don’t drive!
Although we have the utmost respect for law enforcement’s efforts, they are not ready to properly enforce drug-impaired driving laws when cannabis becomes legal in Canada. There is no equivalent to a breathalyzer yet when it comes to testing drivers for drugs. And until we are able to develop a more reliable method of testing, Ontario should adopt a zero tolerance rule for all drivers. So when recreational marijuana becomes legal next month, be smart. Apply the same common sense and judgment with marijuana as you do for alcohol. And if you smoke weed, don’t drive. For now, this really is the best way to keep our roads safe.