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Legal weed unlikely to boost impaired driving numbers

Legalizing marijuana for recreational use is unlikely to have a large long-term effect on impaired driving rates, Toronto critical injury lawyer Dale Orlando tells AdvocateDaily.com.

The federal government recently introduced Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, which governs the use and sale of marijuana for recreational use, as well as its partner, Bill C-46, which proposes an overhaul of the country’s impaired driving laws.

Bill C-46 creates three new offences for drivers with certain levels of particular drugs in their system within two hours of driving and allows police to demand saliva samples from those suspected of operating a vehicle under the influence of drugs.

But Orlando, a partner with McLeish Orlando LLP, says he doesn’t believe marijuana’s legalization will create a new class of criminals.   

“I wouldn’t expect people who are currently cautious about driving under the influence of alcohol are suddenly going to become more reckless because marijuana is involved,” he says.   

When it comes to alcohol use, Orlando says drivers break down into three main groups:

  • People who are willing to drive impaired and take their chances of getting caught;
  • Those who are extremely cautious about driving impaired and will usually leave their vehicle at home if they plan on drinking any alcohol at all; and
  • Drivers who consume a small amount of alcohol but will only operate a vehicle after enough time has passed to reduce the level still in their system.

“I suspect that people who are prone to impaired driving now, will continue to drive impaired under the new law, maybe under the influence of marijuana rather than alcohol,” Orlando says.

However, he acknowledges there will likely be a difficult transition for drivers in the third group, as they try to figure out how long they need to wait after taking the drug before they’re clear to drive again.

Some experts have raised concerns about the reliability of detection technology for THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, as a result of the way it is absorbed by the body.

“It’s new to everybody, and there’s going to be some confusion during the adjustment period before people realize what the legal level is,” Orlando says.

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