The Impact of Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana on Impaired Driving - Diamond and Diamond Lawyers

The Impact of Canada’s Legalization of Marijuana on Impaired Driving


Canada is scheduled to become the first G7 country to legalize recreational use of marijuana under legislation scheduled to go into effect on July 1, 2018. One area of concern is the effect it will have on highway safety in a nation where the leading cause of death and injuries is drivers violating the criminal laws against impaired driving.

Dangers posed by drivers using drugs

Impaired driving due to drugs accounts for approximately 2,500 impaired driving incidents in Canada, which is only about 3 percent of the total number of incidents in one year. However, the statistics from Colorado after its first three years of legalization of marijuana in the state showed the following:

  • Traffic deaths related to marijuana use increased by 48 percent
  • Hospital emergency department visits increased by 49 percent
  • Hospital admissions due to the drug went up by 32 percent

The Canadian government has proposed changes in the Criminal Code to enhance the ability of law enforcement to detect when drivers are impaired on marijuana. Those changes include:

  • Requiring drivers suspected of impaired driving to provide an oral fluid sample for testing
  • Authorize use by police of drug recognition evaluations
  • Expansion of blood testing when drugs are suspected
  • Permit law enforcement officers to offer opinion evidence at trial on the subject of impairment

At the current time, police cannot conduct roadside testing for drugs when they pull a driver over for impaired driving. Proposed legislative changes would allow it. Police in Toronto tested roadside devices for the detection of drug impairment under a program in which drivers voluntarily submitted to testing after being assured they would not face charges for a positive test result.

Battling drug-related impaired driving

One method of improving the ability of police to enforce impaired driving laws when the source of the impairment is marijuana or other drugs is with drug recognition experts. Some police officers are selected for special training to qualify them as experts who rely on their observations of a person suspected of impaired driving to determine if the person is under the influence of a substance and should be tested either through a blood or urine sample.

Officers trained as experts in drug recognition could be used in court to testify as to their observations of a suspect and offer an opinion on the person’s impairment. Unfortunately, there are not enough officers trained as experts to meet the demand.

Legislation to establish legal limits for THC, the ingredient in marijuana that creates the “high” would set blood levels in much the same manner as impaired driving laws currently set for alcohol use. Although not the same as the  0.08 percent blood alcohol concentration level that exists as the legal limit for alcohol, the drug limits for THC would give police and the courts a standard with which to work.

Each driver is different

Experts caution that drugs and alcohol do not metabolize in the body at the same rates. Traces of THC could remain in a person’s body long after the drug has actually been consumed. Complicating use of test results in court as evidence of impaired driving is that differences exist from one person to another in the rate at which their bodies metabolize drugs. This could be where police officers trained as drug recognition experts could be used in support of test results.

Speak to a personal injury lawyer

An accident caused by an impaired driver can cause serious physical injuries and death. If you or a loved one has suffered injuries in an accident, contact the personal injury lawyers at Diamond and Diamond. Call our 24/7 injury hotline at 1-800-567-HURT or visit our website to speak to someone now about your claim. Consultations are free, and we have offices located throughout Ontario.

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