Will the legalization of pot result in more injuries?
Effective October 17, Canadians can purchase legal recreational marijuana from approved vendors. In Ontario, adults 19 and over may now possess a maximum of 30 grams of pot in public.
There is no limit on the amount of dried cannabis you may have at home, but households cannot grow more than four marijuana plants. After Bill 36 (Ontario’s Cannabis Act Amendments Bill) is passed, individuals may smoke pot wherever smoking is allowed, including in designated hotel rooms, many outdoor locations and residential boats and vehicles.
Although the majority of Canadians agree with the concept of legalizing marijuana, many of us continue to be concerned that this change will result in higher rates of car accidents and personal injury resulting from drug impairment. And, there is cause for worry since impaired driving is currently the leading criminal cause of injury and death in Canada and more driver fatalities are caused by drugs than alcohol. Further, none of us really knows whether the amended driving laws and the enhanced training of police officers will be up to the task of preventing drug impairment-related accidents and deaths.
Here are new legislation and procedures related to drug-impaired driving.
- In Ontario, it is illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to be driving under the influence of marijuana, regardless of their licence status.
- Under Canada’s Criminal Code, there are three new criminal offences focussing on the concentration of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active ingredient in cannabis. THC is measured in nanograms per millilitre, and the severity of punishment will rise depending on whether the impaired driver has a concentration of: 2 to less than 5 ng/ml; 5 ng/ml or more; or a blood alcohol level of .05 combined with 2.5 ng/ml or greater of THC.
- Police can use roadside screening devices that test a driver’s saliva for the presence of THC, cocaine and methamphetamine, but only if the officer has reasonable suspicion that a driver has consumed drugs.
One of the problems regarding impairment from cannabis consumption is that the level of impairment is really not predictable and can vary substantially between people. For example, an occasional pot smoker can be impacted much differently than a regular smoker. And, the level of THC and amount of pot consumed have a huge effect on impairment and how long the impairment lasts. Finally, how the cannabis was consumed - through smoking, edibles or drinking – also greatly affects the level and duration of impairment. This uncertainty about how much you are impaired and how long the impairment might last means that the only safe choice is to never drive after consuming pot. What remains to be seen is whether Ontario drivers will take heed of this reality.
A tragic car accident earlier this year highlighted the potentially deadly effects of driving under the influence of drugs. In July, a 21-year-old man was arrested after causing a fatal accident north of Guelph, Ont. The crash resulted in the death of a 43-year-old man in another vehicle, as well as injuries to three passengers who were occupants of the pickup truck driven by the at-fault driver. The latter was charged with driving while impaired by drugs causing death as well as other charges.
Many Canadians, particularly regular pot smokers, have admitted that they often drive after smoking pot. And many others acknowledge that they have been passengers in a vehicle driven by someone who recently consumed marijuana. Young adults and youths are disproportionately represented in the statistics and fatalities related to drug-impaired driving, but anyone can be a victim. However, if we want to prevent the potentially life-changing injuries that can result from drug-related driving accidents, we need to change our thinking about the effect of pot on driving ability and never get into a vehicle driven by someone under the influence.