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

Saanich police issued a 90-day driving ban and a 30-day vehicle impound after an impaired driver was caught at the scene of a collision involving a parked car early on Oct. 27. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
Driver fails roadside screening after early morning crash in Saanich

Both cars significantly damaged after driver hits parked car around 5 a.m.

Struggling to afford rent, Sylvia Bailey is hoping to trade her love of cooking for some more affordable accommodation. (Photo courtesy of Sylvia Bailey)
Retired Victoria woman looking to cook, clean or garden in exchange for rent

Sylvia Bailey is hoping to use her love for cooking to help afford rent

Victoria police are searching for a suspect after a stabbing Monday night. (Black Press Media file photo)
Victoria police searching for suspect in late-night stabbing

Victim taken to hospital with potentially life-threatening injuries

Leila Bui with her parents Tuan Bui (left) and Kairry Nguyen at the end of the trial that found Tanessa Nikirk guilty of dangerous driving causing bodily harm. Nikirk is back in court for her sentencing hearing. (Black Press file photo)
UPDATED: Court hears letter from driver convicted of hitting Saanich girl

Leila Bui has been in a non-responsive state since she was hit in 2017

The drive-through COVID-19 testing facility at the Saanich Peninsula Hospital. (Black Press Media file photo)
Island Health opens COVID-19 testing site at UVic

As with all other sites, an appointment is needed to receive a test

Carolyn and Steve Touhey came across a pod of humpback whales while on their boat Sunday, Oct. 25. Photo supplied
VIDEO: Boaters encounter pod of humpbacks in Georgia Strait

Pod spotted between Comox and Texada Island

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provides an update on the COVID pandemic during a press conference in Ottawa on Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau says pandemic ‘really sucks,’ and that Christmas gatherings are up in the air

The prime minister encouraged residents to continue to follow the advice of local health authorities

The Williams Lake Indian Band is stipulating no-go zones for mushroom picking in areas burned by last summer’s wildfires. 100 Mile Free Press photo
Who controls mushroom harvesting on Indigenous lands?

‘We don’t necessarily know where the mushrooms grow, how old the stands need to be, those types of things.’

Canadian and American flags fly near the Ambassador Bridge at the Canada/USA border crossing in Windsor, Ont. on Saturday, March 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Rob Gurdebeke
U.S. election results one factor that could impact immigration to Canada next year

The survey polled 1,523 Canadians between Oct. 23 and Oct. 25

The voting station mimicked a real voting station in Nicole Choi’s classroom at Chilliwack middle school on Oct. 22, 2020, where students had to show their ID (student cards), be checked off a list, and mark a secret ballot behind a screen. (Jessica Peters/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. students choose NDP majority in mock election

More than 90,000 youth took part in school-based election process

Crew transport bus at the Trans Mountain pipeline project work site in Burnaby, March 2020. (Trans Mountain)
Check your workplace COVID-19 safety plans, Dr. Henry urges

Masks in public spaces, distance in lunchrooms for winter

B.C.’s Court of Appeal is in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Judgment reserved in Surrey Six slayings appeals

Six men were killed in suite 1505 of the Balmoral Tower in Whalley on Oct. 19, 2007

Kelowna City Hall has been vandalized overnight. (Michael Rodriguez - Capital News)
Kelowna City Hall hit by anti-pandemic vandalism

Graffiti condemning the virus appears overnight on City Hall

FILE – A woman smokes a marijuana joint at a “Wake and Bake” legalized marijuana event in Toronto on October 17, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Christopher Katsarov
Home nurse visits could play big role in reducing cannabis use, smoking in young mothers

The program, dubbed the BC Healthy Connections Project, involves public health nursing home visits

Most Read