As we approach the end of 2018, we find ourselves reflecting on the last year. And what a year of change it has been.
After a great deal of consultation and debate – by elected leaders and citizens in general – recreational cannabis was made legal in Canada on October 17, 2018. With this change has come new impaired driving laws to address potential risks of cannabis-impaired driving. Add to this numerous education campaigns and awareness initiatives by governments, police services, road safety and community organizations, and you have a year full of change, full of new information, full of questions, and full of challenges.
MADD Canada’s focus in all of this has been on the challenges and risks recreational cannabis use could pose for impaired driving rates. As we know – just like alcohol – drugs can impair your abilities, including your ability to drive a vehicle safely. Depending on the drug (prescription medication included) and the amount taken, they can reduce alertness, depth perception, concentration, reaction time, motor skills and visual function.
We were very pleased when Bill C-46 – the most comprehensive piece of federal impaired driving legislation in many years – was passed in the House of Commons and proclaimed into law. It includes mandatory alcohol screening, several evidentiary and procedural changes to enhance enforcement and prosecution of impaired driving, and, of course, established new laws and driving limits specifically dealing with drug-impaired driving.
Here’s what you need to know about the new Federal laws
New drug-impaired driving laws and sanctions
These three new offences are now in the Criminal Code of Canada:
- Driving with 2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5 ng of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood.
- Driving with 5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood.
- Driving with a combination of 50 milligrams (mg) of alcohol or more per 100ml of blood plus 2.5 ng or more of THC per 1 ml of blood.
Source: Department of Justice, Government of Canada.
It’s also important to note that provinces and territories have authority over their jurisdictions and have implemented provincial administrative drug impaired driving laws and sanctions to complement the federal laws. You can learn more about provincial rules via the Government of Canada site.
Testing drivers for drugs
If the police have reasonable suspicion that a driver has drugs in his or her body, the police can demand the driver complete a standardized field sobriety test (SFST) or provide an oral fluid sample using the newly-authorized roadside testing device. If the driver fails either test, the police can then demand drug recognition evaluation (DRE) by specially-trained officer or demand a blood sample for testing. Each police service will determine which methods its officers will use.
It is important to understand that the first screening tests done at roadside (SFST or oral fluid screening test) are not evidentiary, meaning they cannot be used as grounds to lay a criminal charge. Failure of the initial test gives police the ability to demand a second, more sophisticated test. Failure of the secondary testing process gives police the grounds to lay a Criminal Code impaired driving charge.
Looking ahead to 2019
It’s all new and fine tuning will be required. We can anticipate the new laws being challenged in court. We can anticipate the testing measures being refined and new screening devices being approved for use. And we can expect more education and awareness initiatives to be launched. MADD Canada, together with partners such as Allstate Canada, is committed to doing all we can to prevent impaired driving – whether by alcohol, by cannabis or by any other drug.
Visit the MADD Canada website to learn more about programs and activities to stop impaired driving and how you can get involved in those efforts.