Driving laws in Canada and cannabis, what you need to know

Published Aug 7, 2019 11:18 a.m. ET
iStock / Dakota Smith

Cannabis has been legalized in Canada both for medical and recreational use. Legally, cannabis can be purchased without the requirement of a prescription by adults 19 years and older. There are many health benefits that can be derived from cannabis. Does this mean that it is legal to consume cannabis and drive? The consumption of cannabis may be legal in Canada, but it is illegal to smoke and drive like how it is illegal to drink and drive.

There has been much discussion on the topic of cannabis and driving since the legalization of recreational marijuana. There is still growing concern about the negative effects of weed on driving. Therefore, there have been changes made in the impaired driving laws of Ontario. This will help to tackle the problem of people driving under the influence of weed.

It is illegal to drive under the influence of THC. As such, if a driver is caught, they will have to deal with the consequences.

Driving while high

Driving while high can be a dangerous venture. Cannabis can affect your level of reaction and affect certain cognitive skills necessary for driving, such as good decision-making skills. A reduction in these skills while under the influence of THC could increase the risk of being in an accident. In Canada, the leading cause of death and physical injury is impaired driving. A recent study also shows that the rate f drivers killed in Canada who were under the influence of drugs (40%) ranked higher than those under the influence of alcohol (33%).

Drug impairment is not exclusive of cannabis, but it includes other drugs as well. Everyone reacts to cannabis differently. Different factors can determine a person’s level of impairment, such as the method of consumption, among other things.

CBD v THC

Considering that THC is the psychoactive cannabinoid in marijuana, it is the reason for the testing for drugs by the police. However, CBD is non-psychoactive, and so it doesn’t usually get someone high nor impair your motor skills. There are some cannabis products that does not contain THC like medical marijuana products. CBD is the main compound found in medical marijuana. It has many medicinal and therapeutic benefits. Although some products may contain CBD, there are still some products that contain more than the required THC content. Be assertive and find out more details about the CBD product you purchase.

Testing for THC

The technology used for testing for THC is relatively new. THC can stay in a person’s system for a long time, and it is difficult to test for THC. If the police suspect that you are driving while high,you may be asked to stop the car and take some tests. If the officer checks your eyes for redness and abnormal speech, then they may administer a saliva test with oral fluid drug screener. This will allow the officer to know if there is a high dose of THC in the driver’s system. The drug test will only alert if there is a concentration of 25 ng of THC. Also, the police officers may require you to take a Drug Recognition Expert Evaluation test to determine the amount of THC in the body.

Consuming cannabis and driving

It is illegal to consume cannabis while you are in the vehicle whether the vehicle is being driven.

Cannabis in the vehicle while driving

Like alcohol, you can have a certain amount of cannabis in your vehicle. A maximum of 30 g dried flower cannabis can be in your car, but it must be sealed and locked away from the driver.

Penalties for driving while under the influence of THC

If you are caught driving under the influence of THC, you could face severe consequences such as suspension of license, fines, jail time, or even a criminal record. If you are found with 2-5 ng of THC in your body, then you will be fined up to $1000. More than 5 ng will cause a serious penalty of being charged with a criminal offence.

Driving exceptions for medical cannabis

There is more leniency on the part of the Ontario government if a driver has THC in his or her system because he is on medical cannabis. However, this does not include young, novice, and commercial drivers because they are subject to the zero-tolerance rule. Medical cannabis users should travel with their medical license so that the police can see some proof that they are on prescribed drugs legally.

If you feel high or impaired, then you should try to sober up from weed before you drive. You can sleep it off for the day until you feel capable of driving without being impaired or you can get a lift from a friend or use public transportation. It is better to be safe than sorry.

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