No increase in impaired driving rates since marijuana legalization

Published Dec 13, 2019 01:00 p.m. ET
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Canada has officially passed the one-year mark of marijuana legalization, which is more than enough time to assess some of the potential complications that were expected to arise with its introduction. One of the biggest and most repeated fears of the uneducated public was based on the idea that introducing a second legal intoxicating substance might lead to a dramatic spike in impaired driving rates. Luckily, they can all rest assured thanks to the truth that confirms that this fear is unfounded.

Impaired definition

There are several different definitions for the word impaired, but in North America, it is most often used to describe an individual who has consumed too many drugs or too much alcohol leading to a loss of motor skills and control. An impaired driver is someone who becomes intoxicated using any mind-altering substance and then gets behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. This is a criminal offense that can lead to life-altering consequences including a lifetime record, license suspension, fines, and or jail time.

The facts

It has always been an offense to drive while impaired, and marijuana legalization did not change that. What it did alter is the way that police officers keep track of these incidents, ensuring to always look for clues as to which substance was used, and who’s most responsible for the situation at hand. That way, they could record and compare rates with all factors considered in a fair and measurable process.

The most up to date information available to the public right now is from the National Drug Recognition Expert who works closely with the RCMP Traffic Services, and what has been released so far are the rates leading up to August 1, 2019, just a few months shy of the one year anniversary of marijuana legalization. In the 365 days prior to August 2, 2019, there were a total of 455 impaired driving investigations where cannabis was believed to be involved, and of those, only 140 were eventually proven guilty bringing forward criminal charges. 30 of those individuals are still being investigated today, and 30 were released nearly immediately after involvement with law enforcement.

Officials and police have been investigating impaired driving rates since 1920, so it’s relatively easy to check these current rates with historical estimates, and in the year prior to marijuana legalization, there were ultimately 1% more cannabis-related impaired driving charges than there was after it gaining legal status. So not only did the rates not climb significantly as so many had initially predicted, but they actually lowered in the very first year of marijuana legalization.

Why do impaired driving rates remain unchanged?

Now that there are many legal avenues to obtain cannabis in Canada, it makes sense that those who aren’t taking into consideration other influential factors might be led to believe that it could pose a risk, but the truth is that consumption rates also haven’t changed much over the last year. What that means is that even though access is easier, legal, and regulated, it’s pretty much the same pre-legalization consumers who are using cannabis, and if they weren’t toking and driving before legalization, the mere status change of the substance isn’t enough to make them suddenly decide to now.

Though rigorous screening is expected to continue to ensure this positive result maintains, so far, it looks like consumers are being just as responsible as they were before marijuana legalization. Now, that doesn’t mean that impaired driving is not still a massive issue in this country, as hundreds of people die every single year after deciding to drive while impaired, and the introduction of legal pot did not in any way make our roads any less safe than they were before.

Depending on how you read the data, one could even go so far as to say it’s reduced it, or at least, remained uninfluencing on the general population, which is great news for those who are still fighting for equal access. Marijuana legalization has freed thousands of people from lifetime criminal charges for enjoying the benefits of cannabis and opened a brand-new market that has no adverse influence on its surrounding community.

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