Driving under the influence under the Canada’s Cannabis Act an unmarked road
In a little over two months, it will be legal in Canada to make use of cannabis recreationally, a significant upgrade in civil liberties 60 years in the making. Driving under the influence will become a source of constant worry. It has been an argument held by those opposed to the legalization of cannabis that driving under the influence will become a significant issue.
Drugs, more particularly cannabis with psychoactive THC, impairs the ability to drive safely and increases the risk of getting into a collision. The percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs (40%) now actually exceeds the numbers who test positive for alcohol (33%). These are legitimate concerns that deserve significant attention.
Impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada, and drug-impaired driving is increasing. In 2016, there were more than 70,000 impaired driving incidents reported by the police, including almost 3,000 drug-impaired driving incidents. The Criminal Code prohibits driving while impaired to any degree by drugs and alcohol.
In June Bill C-46 turned into Canadian law, somewhat as the guardian angel of the Cannabis Act. Bill C-46 created three new offences for having a prohibited concentration of drugs in the blood within two hours of driving. The levels for THC are at:
- for the summary conviction offence for 2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5 ng of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood
- for the hybrid offence for 5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood
- for the hybrid offence for a combination of 50 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100 ml blood + 2.5 ng or more of THC per 1 ml of blood
While C-46 sounds sensible, it is infinitely more complicated that the metrics of drinking and driving. In fact, it is questionable if someone can stay under these proposed limits while using cannabis.
Studies show that there is no amount of cannabis that one can use without hitting the limit imposed by C-46. One joint of even one puff can put a user over the limit.
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It gets more complicated when considering the mode of ingestion: smoking is faster more predictable but then eating oil or edibles has a delayed effect. Effects depend on age, gender, history of use for example.
Civil liberties advocates worry the Canadian government has adopted a “zero tolerance” approach based on inconclusive science. They fear that sober people will end up receiving criminal records — and those at greatest risk will be medical cannabis users and racialized communities that are already over-policed.
The Washington Post reviewed from Colorado that suggest that driving under the influence may not cause dramatic changes in collision statistics. One study looked at claims for motor vehicle collisions which showed an increased amount in minor collisions after legalization, while a second study (AJPH) report focused more specifically on fatal crashes. The findings were strikingly counterintuitive. From 2012 to 2015 collisions claim frequencies in the states that had legalized marijuana were about 3 percent higher than would have been anticipated without legalization. But a second study, published in the American Journal of Public Health (AJPH), showed no increase in vehicle crash fatalities in Colorado and Washington, relative to similar states, after legalization.
In short, there was a slight increase is collisions but no effect on the level of fatalities. This is encouraging in the sense that we may not need worry as much as feared.
Ultimately, we need to educate the public: Don’t take a chance. Don’t drive high.
Dr. Luc C. Duchesne is a Speaker and Author with a PhD in Biochemistry. With three decades of scientific and business experience, he has published ... <Read more about Dr. Luc Duchesne>