As the Canadian government pushes forward its plan to legalize marijuana by summer of 2018, it has left citizens and lawyers wondering if this will increase the number of impaired drivers. If we are to see a spike in impaired driving, the question becomes how are the government and police going to crack down on marijuana related impaired driving?

Currently, the Canadian government is constructing legislation around the purchasing and distribution of marijuana. This is to be combined with the impaired driving laws already instated. However, is this really as all encompassing as it seems? The Canadian government might be missing a key aspect.

The current impaired driving legislation is as follows:

Impaired driving means operating a vehicle (including cars, trucks, boats, snowmobiles and off-road vehicles) while under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

It is a crime under the Criminal Code of Canada and the consequences are serious. You may:

  • lose your license
  • have your vehicle impounded
  • need to pay an administrative monetary penalty
  • need to attend an education or treatment program
  • be fined upon conviction
  • be required to install an ignition interlock device in your vehicle
  • spend time in jail
  • end up with a criminal record


Drug impaired driving

Drugs can impair your ability to drive and is illegal. This is true for both illegal drugs and prescription or over-the-counter medication.

As seen above, there is only one specific excerpt for drug related impaired driving. The rest of the legislation provides an in-depth discussion of impaired driving caused by drinking; looking at blood alcohol concentration and the specific fines and charges associated.

It is evident that overarching legislation is being put into place – the issue comes from the lack of specifics around marijuana related impairment. Unlike alcohol, there is no clear-cut method to determine what it means to be impaired by marijuana. There is no clear evidence indicating what level of THC would impair the driver.

Determining the legal level of THC would be nearly impossible as each person reacts to the effects of marijuana differently. According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse, “the effects appear to be individual. One person may be substantially impaired after a relatively small amount of marijuana, while someone else may be only moderately impaired after the same dose.”

The current method for determining marijuana impairment is conducted by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). However, the 12-step drug evaluation is a lengthy process and currently there are fewer than 600 DRE agents in Canada.

A third issue that arises is that even if marijuana is found in the system it is not always evident when the drug was consumed. Each individual metabolizes the drug differently.

How to determine if a driver is impaired by marijuana as well as what it means to be impaired is still up for question. As the government continues to implement their plans to legalize marijuana it is imperative that clear-cut guidelines for marijuana impairment are put into place. Without, drivers may not know what a safe amount of marijuana is, officers will not know how to determine impairment as well as how to determine how impaired a driver is, there will not be a straight forward list of charges and fines, and the prosecution may have hard time setting precedence.

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