Early data points to the conclusion that cannabis legalization has not changed the amount that Canadians are driving high.
A survey conducted by the Canadian Press of various police forces across Canada found that law enforcement did not see a spike in cannabis-impaired driving when legalization kicked in last month.
While some agencies were wary of giving the journalists numbers on the admittedly small data pool, saying it was too early to tell, others said the first month’s initial numbers and anecdotal impressions suggest driving under the influence of cannabis in Canada is not on the rise.
According to the results of the survey, police forces in the cities of Vancouver, Regina, Truro and Kensington — as well as police in the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador and Yukon — said they have not seen any changes to the traditional status quo around pot-related traffic violations in their municipalities.
Sgt. Joe Cantelo of the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force in New Brunswick noted to the survey team that most of his department’s issues with cannabis have remained the same since before the implementation of legalization.
“We were catching a lot of high school kids because marijuana has seemed to be kind of mainstream forever,” said Cantelo, before noting his department has certainly not seen a rise in impaired driving.
Another fascinating statistic that has emerged from the early days of Canadian legalization is that more drivers are getting investigated for being under the influence of booze than THC. In Manitoba, for example, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police have only stopped three people over the suspicion of driving under the influence of marijuana in the last month. During that time, there were nearly 50 people were charged with driving under the influence of alcohol.
In Vancouver, police have issued a total of 18 cannabis violations since the sales of legal cannabis began. Most of the traffic violations didn’t have anything to do with the driver consuming cannabis behind the wheel. They tended to be a storage error or passengers smoking in a car.
“As expected, we haven’t seen a dramatic increase in cannabis-related offenses,” Vancouver Police Constable Jason Doucette told the Canadian Press.
NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano has spent years tracking the debate around the impact legal marijuana would have on impaired driving.
“It is reassuring that police have not reported an uptick in drugged driving behavior in the initial weeks following the enactment of adult use regulation,” Armentano told Cannabis Now. “But this result should not have been unexpected. Driving under the influence of marijuana is just as illegal today as it was prior to legalization, and as we’ve already seen in the United States, amending the criminal status of cannabis is not associated with any negative impact on traffic safety.”
Armentano followed up noting that in the U.S., legal cannabis jurisdictions have not experienced any significant rise in motor-vehicle crashes or fatalities as compared to states where marijuana use remains criminally prohibited.
“And in some jurisdictions, amending the legal status of cannabis has been associated with a reduction in traffic fatalities among younger-aged drivers,” said Armentano.
Public Safety Canada conducted research on drug-impaired driving in 2017. They found 81 percent of those they interviewed know someone who has used cannabis and 56 percent have consumed cannabis at some point in their lives. Among those who have used cannabis, 28 percent reported they have operated a vehicle while under the influence. One in three Canadians report that they have ridden in a vehicle operated by a driver who was under the effects of cannabis. But on a more positive note, 44 percent of youth say it is easy to tell if someone is too high to drive. So at the very least, they will know not to get into the car in the first place.
As of June this year, if Canadian police have a reasonable suspicion that a driver has a drug in their body, they may demand a saliva sample on the spot next to the road. If they have further reasonable grounds to believe a crime has been committed, like a positive test result for one example, police may pursue drug recognition evaluation or take a blood sample.
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