Canada concerned about impact of cannabis legalization on impaired driving

Published: August 29, 2017

Updated: July 24, 2018

Author: Luke Jones



Recreational cannabis will be given legalization in Canada during 2018, and drivers will be a major stumbling block for authorities. While laws are clear on drink-driving, will motorists be as savvy about drug-impaired-driving? Already drunk driving is a problem, but authorities predict confusion when marijuana is legal.

Impaired drivers are one of the main concerns about introducing the drug recreationally. The Liberal government, under Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has plans to implement a major reform of impaired driving laws in Canada. Trudeau’s ministers say they plan to make the country’s laws on impaired driving among the most robust in the world.

Under the proposed overhaul, drivers will not be permitted (under a criminal offence) to operate a vehicle within two hours of going over the drink or drug limit. A first offence will carry a mandatory $1,000 fine and repeat offenders will get harsher penalties.

“Everybody is concerned with drug-impaired driving, including the insurance industry,” said Ivan Ross Vrana, senior account director at HKS Strategies. “I have a concern on the policing fronts and from insurance purposes.

“A driver gets pulled over by police and is told to take a drugs test. How reliable is that test? It’s not like alcohol where a person is impaired or they’re not. What if the driver took cannabis for medical purposes – what’s the distinction there? I hope that the tests they produce are sophisticated enough to differentiate between different cannabinoids and the different uses of cannabis. It’s going to be a huge headache trying to curtail, measure and correct drug-induced driving.” 

How to police the cannabis situation is a heated debate at the moment. How to properly test drivers and find impaired motorists will be important. Equally, governments are deciding what powers police will have and what legal limits of marijuana will be.