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

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

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

Kitamaat women complete the three-peat at All Native

Haisla team unstoppable in final as they rout Hazelton; Adelia Paul back to back MVP

No injuries reported following Kitimat Scotiabank robbery

RCMP release image of man wanted in connection with robbery

Northern Health recommends self-quarantine for people returning from Hubei

The healthcare provider said it isn’t neccessary for healthy children to wear face masks

Wet’suwet’en return to camps near Houston, Coastal GasLink workers move through: First Nation

Opponents of a pipeline who support the Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs have reoccupied camps at centre of arrests

Municipal water passes lead tests with flying colours

You may, however, want to test your water at home

VIDEO: Ottawa wants quick, peaceful resolution to pipeline protests, Trudeau says

The protests have manifested themselves as blockades on different rail lines across the country

B.C. budget expected to stay the course as economic growth moderates

Finance minister said ICBC costs have affected budget

Monday marks one-year anniversary of man missing from Langley

42-year-old B.C. man, Searl Smith, was last seen leaving Langley Memorial Hospital on Feb. 17, 2019

BC Ferries sailings filling up Family Day Monday

More than 20 sailings added between Swartz Bay and Tsawwassen for long weekend

Amtrak warns of delays as railways from Seattle to B.C. blocked by Wet’suwet’en supporters

Coastal GasLink said it’s signed benefits agreements with all 20 elected band councils along pipeline route

Federal emergency group meets on pipeline protests as rail blockades continue

There’s mounting political pressure for Trudeau to put an end to the blockades

VIDEO: Minister reports ‘modest progress’ after blockade talks with First Nation

Wet’suwet’en hereditary chiefs say Coastal GasLink does not have authority to go through their lands

B.C. man released from quarantined cruise ship in Japan

Because Spencer Fehrenbacher has American citizenship, he was evacuated by the U.S.

Henrique scores 2 as Ducks soar past Canucks 5-1

Vancouver tumbles out of top spot in Pacific Division

Most Read