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

Alberta children whose only symptom of COVID-19 is a runny nose or a sore throat will no longer require mandatory isolation, starting Monday.
477 new COVID-19 cases confirmed in Alberta on Thursday

Changes being made to the COVID-19 symptom list for school-age children

Three young Sylvan Lake residents are asking for lights to be added to the walking trail system to make them safer and less scary at night. Photo by @workinonmyfitness72
Young Sylvan Lake residents ask for lights to be added to walking trails

Three young Sylvan Lake residents appeared before Council recently to present their ask

Agriculture Minister Devin Dreeshen (Alberta government photo)
Town of Sylvan Lake recieves funding to help with COVID-19 related revenue losses

Minister Devin Dreeshen says the funding will help the Town pay staff and provide services

There were 410 COVID-19 cases recorded in Alberta Wednesday. (File photo by The Associated Press)
Alberta records 410 new COVID-19 cases Wednesday

Central zone dropped to 160 active cases

Shaun Isaac, owner of Woodchucker Firewood in Trochu, is awaiting a new shipment during a firewood shortage in the province. All of the wood he has left is being saved for long-time customers who need it to heat their homes. (Contributed photo).
Firewood shortage in central Alberta caused by rising demand, gaps in supply

‘I’ve said “No” to more people than ever’: firewood seller

Royal Alexandra Hospital front-line workers walk a picket line after walking off the job in a wildcat strike in Edmonton, on Monday, October 26, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta labour board orders health-care staff who walked off the job to go back to work

Finance Minister Travis Toews said in a news release that he was pleased with the labour board’s decision

Pilots Ilona Carter and Jim Gray of iRecover Treatment Centres, in front of his company’s aircraft, based at Ponoka’s airport. (Perry Wilson/Submitted)
95-year-old Ilona Carter flies again

Takes to the skies over Ponoka

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a daycare in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. Alberta Children’s Services Minister Rebecca Schulz says the province plans to bring in a new way of licensing and monitoring child-care facilities. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Alberta proposes legislation to change rules on child-care spaces

Record-keeping, traditionally done on paper, would be allowed digitally

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shakes hands with US Vice-President Joe Biden on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Friday, December 9, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Patrick Doyle
A Biden presidency could mean good news for Canadian environment policy: observers

Experts and observers say even a U.S. outside the Paris agreement may ultimately end up in the same place

People take a photo together during the opening night of Christmas Lights Across Canada, in Ottawa, on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2019. The likelihood that most Canadians will enjoy a holly jolly Christmas season of gatherings, caroling and travel is unlikely, say public health experts who encourage those who revel in holiday traditions to accept more sacrifices ahead. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Ho, ho, no: Experts advise preparing for a scaled-back COVID holiday season

Many of the holiday season’s highlights have already been scrapped or are unlikely to take place

Sen. Kim Pate is shown in Toronto in an October 15, 2013, file photo. The parliamentary budget office says a proposed law that would give judges discretion on whether to apply a lesser sentence for murder could save the federal government $8.3 million per year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Colin Perkel
Judicial discretion for mandatory minimum sentences for murder would save $8.3M: PBO

The result would be fewer people in long-term custody at federal correctional institutions, experts say

Husky Energy logo is shown at the company’s annual meeting in Calgary on May 5, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Husky pipeline spills 900,000 litres of produced water in northwestern Alberta

The energy regulator says environmental contractors are at the site

A raccoon paid a visit to a Toronto Tim Hortons on Oct. 22, 2020. (shecallsmedrew/Twitter)
Who are you calling a trash panda? Raccoon takes a shift at Toronto Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons said animal control was called as soon they saw the surprise visitor

Most Read