Marijuana and driving: what are the legal limits?

Mixing marijuana and driving could land you in trouble with the police, despite it becoming legal
Mixing marijuana and driving could land you in trouble with the police, despite it becoming legal

As Canada prepares for the great legal cannabis reality, many folks are wondering how many puffs can you take before you’re one toke over the line?

Well, the short answer is, it depends.

Currently, there is no standards definition of impairment because tests only show the level of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) — the substance that produces a high in the bloodstream. No test can accurately show impairment, unlike the 0.08 standard for impaired driving after consuming alcohol.

“A significant limitation of these studies is the inability to assess the level of driver impairment, as the complex pharmacokinetics of cannabinoids pose a challenge to establishing a universally accepted and scientifically valid standard of cannabis impairment,” according to a study released by UBC entitled Guidelines For Public Health And Safety Metrics To Evaluate The Potential Harms And Benefits Of Cannabis Regulation In Canada and obtained by Global News.

While accidents showed an increased level of THC in the body after legalization in Washington and Colorado, this wasn’t particularly relevant, said the authors.

“The thing to remember is that these tests are not very specific, in the sense that what they detect is the presence of THC in someone’s blood 28 days or so before the accident occurred,” said UBC’s Michael-John Milloy.

But that doesn’t mean those who imbibe are impairment-free.

According to a 2017 EKOS Research study, 28 per cent of those who reported using cannabis drove while under the influence. And one in three Canadians reported being in a car driven by some who has ingested marijuana.

To help combat an expected increase in stoned drivers, the RCMP and Canada Border Service Agency (CBSA) have instituted mandatory courses for officers to better detect drugged driving.

“The RCMP is updating and expanding the training available to all Canadian police officers that will strengthen their ability to continue to detect drug impaired drivers,” Brenda Lucki, RCMP Commissioner told CTV News.

Some groups are hoping the federal government’s legislation has some real teeth to combat the potential problem.

“We are pushing for roadside technology to be able to do this because driving impaired by drug is almost as common, if not more common, than driving alcohol impaired these days,” Amy St-Amour, media spokesperson for MADD Timmins and Area told the Timmins Press.

Recently, federal drug czar Bill Blair promised the law would pass without impaired-driving considerations.

But even pot producers know that driving while high is a bad idea.

“We strongly advise against operating motorized vehicles while under the influence of cannabis, given its potential to affect response time and the ability to make proper judgement calls while on the road,” said Terry Booth, CEO of Aurora Cannabis, a producer in B.C.

Drew Brown, writing in The Guardian best explained why you probably shouldn’t drive high.

“Under the Liberals’ proposed inclusion of stoned driving under the Criminal Code, Bill C-46, THC levels of 5 nanograms per millilitre of blood are penalized in three tiers: a minimum fine of $1,000 for the first offence; minimum 30 days imprisonment for a second offence; and a minimum of 120 days in jail for the third and any subsequent offenses.”

For those who still think they can handle drugged driving, perhaps those steep penalties will dissuade you to think again.

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