In this photo illustration, smoke from a cannabis oil vaporizer is seen as the driver is behind the wheel of a car in North Vancouver, B.C. Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward

Early data suggests no spike in pot-impaired driving after legalization: police

Some departments said it’s too early to provide data, others said initial numbers suggest stoned driving isn’t on the rise

Canadian police have not seen a spike in cannabis-impaired driving one month since legalization, but there needs to be more awareness of laws around storing marijuana in vehicles and passengers smoking weed, law enforcement officials say.

The Canadian Press canvassed police forces and provincial and territorial Crowns across the country and while some said it was too early to provide data, others said initial numbers and anecdotal impressions suggest stoned driving isn’t on the rise.

READ MORE: 14% of people admit to driving after smoking pot

“Even before the legislation we were catching a lot of high school kids because marijuana has seemed to be kind of mainstream forever,” said Sgt. Joe Cantelo of the Kennebecasis Regional Police Force in New Brunswick.

“In our department, there’s certainly no rise in impaired driving by (marijuana).”

Police forces in Vancouver, Regina, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, Truro, N.S., and Kensington, P.E.I., all said they hadn’t noticed a significant change in driver behaviour since pot was legalized on Oct. 17.

READ MORE: Pot-filled pipe lands driver $230 fine

Cantelo said there were three impaired driving charges in his community over the last few weeks and they were “strictly older adults with alcohol.”

Manitoba RCMP conducted three cannabis-impaired driving investigations in the three weeks since Oct. 17, compared with one such investigation in the three weeks prior to legalization. There were about 50 alcohol-impaired driving charges laid during each of the same periods.

Const. Jason Doucette said Vancouver police have issued 18 violation tickets under provincial cannabis laws since Oct. 17. The majority of traffic-related tickets were issued because pot was not properly stored or passengers were consuming weed in the vehicle.

During one roadblock campaign, he said Vancouver officers noted six events specific to cannabis impairment, which led to four 24-hour driving suspensions.

“As expected, we haven’t seen a dramatic increase in cannabis-related offences,” he added.

Provinces and territories established their own laws around cannabis storage in vehicles, but generally weed must be in closed packaging and out of reach of the driver. Manitoba took a step further and required pot to be in a secure compartment, such as the trunk.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, there have been at least six charges related to open or accessible cannabis in vehicles, RCMP said.

READ MORE: Victoria man disputes charges of allegedly driving while in possession of pot

Obviously drivers can’t consume weed, but many provinces, including British Columbia and Ontario, have banned passengers from toking as well. A joint-smoking passenger in Saanich, B.C., was slapped with a $230 fine a day after legalization, police said.

As for cannabis-impaired driving, some police detachments and Crowns don’t track it separately from impairment caused by other drugs or alcohol.

The B.C. Public Prosecution Service said it doesn’t classify impaired-driving charges by intoxicant, but in the three weeks after legalization it approved 43 such charges, while in the three weeks before legalization it approved 52 charges.

Toronto police said they’d had 58 drug-impaired driving incidents in 2018 to date, including two after pot legalization, and 824 alcohol-impaired incidents. That’s compared to 60 incidents of drug impairment in drivers and 1,154 instances of alcohol impairment in all of 2017.

In Halifax and the Northwest Territories, there were no cannabis-impaired driving arrests in the three weeks before or after legalization, while in Nunavut, there were five general impaired-driving charges during both periods.

READ MORE: New pot, impaired driving penalties could bar newcomers from Canada

Sgt. Joyce Kemp said Quebec provincial police made 252 arrests for drug-related driving impairments between Jan. 1 and Sept. 17 of this year, compared to 319 for all of 2017 and 310 in 2016.

“A lot of people seem to think this is something new,” she said. “But the numbers speak (for themselves), we’ve been doing this for quite a few years now.”

Some police detachments, including Edmonton, Regina, Yukon and Nunavut, have purchased or are planning to purchase the federally approved roadside saliva test, the Drager DrugTest 5000, but have not used it in the field. Others have decided to rely on standardized field sobriety tests and drug recognition experts for now.

Kyla Lee, a Vancouver-based lawyer who wants to file a court challenge of the Drager test once it’s used on a driver who wishes to dispute it, said she hadn’t heard of it being used anywhere yet.

She said she’s impressed so far with the police approach to enforcement, particularly in B.C.’s Lower Mainland.

“I was worried when the law changed … that this sort of panic around cannabis-impaired driving was going to lead to a number of false arrests and bad investigations. That’s not what I’ve been seeing,” she said.

There still needs to be more awareness among Canadians, especially youth, of the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving, said Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada.

“The problem we were having, especially with young people with cannabis, is they didn’t see cannabis as dangerous, (we) didn’t see them upholding the same type of behaviours they would around alcohol,” he said.

“We had a problem of perception that it’s less dangerous and that’s the biggest battle we’re fighting right now.”

The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Winner takes home snowboard in annual Rock Paper Scissors competition

Jordan Tostevin, a visitor from the United Kingdom won this year’s competition

Ghostriders nail down thirtieth win this season

The Riders beat the Spokane Braves 3-2 in overtime

Kootenay-Columbia MP urges end to ‘illegal roadblocks’ in solidarity with pipeline dispute

Rob Morrison says protestors across Canada need to remove roadblocks on roads, rail lines

Elkford celebrates another exciting Winter in the Wild

The citizens of Elkford came out for a fun weekend of tossing frozen turkeys and playing Sno-Pitch

Fernie Mountain Film Festival coming to the big screen

Amateur and professional films about all things mountain related will screen at this year’s festival

VIDEO: B.C. senior recalls ‘crazy’ wartime decision to grab bear cub from den

Henry Martens – now 96 – says he was lucky to be alive after youthful decision to enter a bear’s den

B.C., Ottawa sign sweeping 30-year deal for northern caribou habitat

West Moberly, Saulteau co-manage new protection on two million acres

Eyes on police after Trudeau orders blockades torn down, injunctions enforced

The RCMP in B.C. have sent a letter to the traditional leaders of the Wet’suwet’en Nation

B.C. massage therapist suspended following allegations of sexual misconduct

While suspended, Leonard Krekic is not entitled to practice as an RMT in B.C.

Cheapest in B.C.: Penticton gas prices dip below $1 per litre

Two stores in Penticton have gas below a dollar.

Loans or gifts? Judge rules woman must pay B.C. man back $7K

B.C. judge rules that woman must pay back more than $7,000 in advanced funds to man

VIDEO: Outpouring of worldwide support for bullied Australian boy

Australian actor Hugh Jackman said ‘you are stronger than you know, mate’

‘A horror show:’ Ex-employee shares experience at problematic Chilliwack seniors’ home

Workers are paid below industry standard at all Retirement Concepts facilities

Forest industry protests northern B.C. caribou protection deal

B.C. Mining Association supports federal-Indigenous plan

Most Read