With Ottawa set to legalize recreational cannabis, the debate over whether or not to legalize the drug for recreational purposes has shifted toward a discussion regarding how the drug should be distributed and policed, especially as it pertains to a growing issue on Canada’s roads: drug-impaired driving.

A recent case made headlines when a Manitoba man admitted in court to having consumed about half a gram of the drug before driving and was found not guilty even after he failed several roadside tests.

Regardless of where one stands on the issue, the newly proposed laws governing the consumption of THC and operating a vehicle make it clear that Canada is taking steps toward putting a stop to what it deems a major issue. DUIs and perhaps now drug-impaired driving convictions will give you a criminal record that will make it difficult to find gainful employment and travel abroad, so staying abreast of the issue is essential. Here are a few telling statistics about drug-impaired driving on Canadian roads to shed some light on this issue:

  • The crash rates of cannabis users are two-six times higher than drivers who are not impaired
  • Marijuana is used more before driving than any other drug, oftentimes exceeding alcohol
  • In 2011, 12.6% of young Canadians admitted to driving after taking marijuana
  • Among drivers killed in motor vehicle crashes between 2000-2010, more than 16% tested positive for Cannabis

All statistics are courtesy of the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse. So while it’s clear that driving under the influence of THC is an issue, it is also important that the government acts rationally in policing and does so under a set of fair guidelines. Even now, it is not uncommon for officers to overstep their bounds in regards to drinking and driving, a much more well-defined area of law.

Drug-Impaired Driving: A Difficult Conviction

One issue that Ottawa needs to deal with is that the effects of cannabis vary from person to person. This fact makes getting charges to stick in court a difficult task. Also, the justice system is slowly realizing that its tried and tested measures for combating drunk driving have been rendered obsolete as they pertain to drug-impaired driving. Despite the push to set a so-called “hard limit”, the maximum on the THC in a driver’s blood while operating a vehicle, there still is no scientific or legal consensus in regards to how much is actually too much. Aside from proving that the driver had consumed cannabis before operating their vehicle, the Crown must actually prove that it impaired their ability to drive. The justice system still has progress to make before it can definitively say it is prepared to prosecute these crimes.

One Delta, B.C police chief cited a lack of trained officers on the roads as part of the recreational cannabis issue. Of his 200-member force, only one was actually trained to detect the usage of cannabis while driving, and training a new officer would cost the city a staggering $17,000!

Regardless of your opinion on recreational cannabis, what is clear is that Ottawa is still not sure how the drug will be policed. Moreover, even if a scheme were in place for policing, the provinces aren’t quite ready to do so yet. That makes it all the more important for British Columbians to know their rights should they be pulled over for a DUI, or perhaps a drug-impaired driving charge in the future. When a conviction has such serious implications, the Crown must be sure that its actions are justified.