Cannabis, youth and driving in Ontario: law and consequences
Now that cannabis is legal in Canada, young drivers need to know the law and consequences of driving with THC in their system. You can also watch my interview with WhatSheSaid at the bottom of this post for more info.
Bill C-46, the Cannabis Legalization Bill, took effect on Oct. 17, 2018. This Bill legalized recreational use and possession of Cannabis in certain quantities. In addition, Ontario passed the Cannabis Act, 2017 to further restrict its use. Its objective was to put rules in place to keep cannabis out of the hands of children and youth, keep our roads safe, and combat the illegal market. It has been reviewed by many as the “strictest” provincial legislation with respect to cannabis. If you or your child uses cannabis and drives, then here are some basic facts that you should know.
Age and location of using cannabis
In Ontario, you must be 19 years of age or older to buy, use, possess and grow recreational cannabis. This is the same as the minimum age for the sale of tobacco and alcohol in Ontario. In addition, where you can smoke or vape cannabis depends on who is around you. With respect to schools and places where children gather, you cannot smoke or vape cannabis:
- at school, on school grounds, and all public areas within 20m of these grounds
- on children’s playgrounds and public areas within 20m of playgrounds
- in child care centres, or where an early years program is provided
- in places where home child care is provided — even if children aren’t present
- in motor vehicles – even if you are not driving
Driving after using cannabis
Driving impaired by cannabis is illegal and dangerous. Cannabis, like many other drugs, slows your reaction time and increases your chances of being in a collision, especially for young drivers. For experienced drivers over the age of 21, you cannot drive with a THC blood concentration of over 2 nanograms/millilitre of blood. For drivers under the age of 21, or new or commercial drivers, there is zero tolerance for cannabis. Zero tolerance means that the following drivers cannot drive if they have any detectable presence of drugs in their system (as detected by a federally approved oral fluid screening device):
- you are 21 or under; or
- have a G1, G2, M1 or M2 licence; or
- the vehicle you are driving requires an A-F driver’s licence or Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR); or
- you are driving a road-building machine
Violating zero tolerance
If zero tolerance is violated by young, novice and commercial drivers, then the following are a list of the penalties they will face:
- First offence
- 3-day licence suspension. This cannot be appealed.
- $250 penalty (begins January 2019)
- Second offence within five years
- 7-day licence suspension (3-day suspension for commercial drivers). This cannot be appealed.
- $350 penalty (begins January 2019)
- You must attend a mandatory education program (for a second occurrence within 10 years)
- Third and subsequent offences within five years
- 30-day licence suspension (3-day suspension for commercial drivers). This cannot be appealed.
- $450 penalty (begins January 2019)
- You must attend a mandatory treatment program (for third and subsequent offence within 10 years)
- You will be required to use an ignition interlock device for at least six months (for third and subsequent offence within 10 years)
- You will need to undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario (for fourth and subsequent offence within 10 years)
Serious injuries or death as a result of impaired driving can carry a penalty as high as life in prison (14 years).
The problem with the cannabis test approved for use on drivers in Canada
Unlike alcohol, the science shows no consistent connection between THC levels in the blood and impairment. Everyone clears THC from their body at different rates, making it very hard for people to know how long they need to wait before getting behind the wheel after having consumed cannabis. Heavy cannabis users – including some people who use medical cannabis – may always have THC blood concentrations above the 2ng/ml limit, despite having had a period of cessation for hours or possibly days. In short, besides abstaining for a decent amount of time, there is no good way to be sure you’re complying with the law – which is particularly concerning when that law is the Criminal Code, and punishments range from a fine to jail time.
How to talk to a child about impaired driving and cannabis use
Many car crashes involving teenagers are caused by inexperience and poor judgment. When these factors are combined with cannabis or other drugs, the results can be tragic. In Canada, car crashes are the leading cause of death among 16 to 25-year-olds and alcohol and/or drug impairment is a factor in 55 per cent of those crashes. According to the 2014-15, Canadian Student Tobacco, Alcohol and Drugs Survey:
- Five per cent of students in grades 7 to 12 reported having driven a vehicle within two hours of cannabis use; and
- 15 per cent of students in grades 7 to 12 reported being a passenger in a motor vehicle driven by someone who had used cannabis in the previous two hours
Parents and educators play a vital role in teaching young people to drive responsibly. That means:
- Discussing how drugs and alcohol can impair driving ability, affect their perceptions, and slow their reaction time.
- Educating them on the strict zero tolerance rules for youth under 21 who drive and use cannabis; there is no safe limit for young drivers since a small amount of cannabis can stay in their system for hours and days.
- Making them aware of the severe legal consequence that can follow an impaired driving charge and conviction.
- Giving them the statistics on impaired driving and how their actions cannot only affect their future, but the future lives of others who may be driving on the road at the same time.