Cannabis and driving in Canada: what you should know

Cannabis is now legal in Canada, and the nation seems unable to find those scores of aunts and uncles just looking for something to help with sleep. But there are still rules we all need to follow on the road when cannabis is involved, just as with responsible consumption of alcohol. One thing that the government has put on the radar is driving while high on weed, as driving impaired is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada.

Here’s everything you need to know about cannabis and driving in Canada and Ontario.


Does smoking weed impair driving?

Cannabis and driving are a big no-no. Mentioned above drug impaired driving is increasing and it’s also a major concern among young people. It’s important to plan ahead if you’re thinking of consuming weed or wait the appropriate time before driving. The way marijuana affects someone can depend on how it’s consumed.

People partake of cannabis for the effects it grants, but the side effects are pretty hazardous to road safety. Common effects of driving under the influence of cannabis are:

  • Affected motor skills
  • Slows down reaction time
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Causes drivers to vary in speed and wander on the road
  • Affects ability to plan ahead, think clearly and make sound decisions


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The effects of cannabis compared to alcohol when driving

For comparison here is how alcohol affects someone behind the wheel:

  • Slows down reaction time
  • Impaired memory and concentration
  • Loss of eye/hand/foot coordination
  • Reduces peripheral vision and impairs vision
  • Affects ability to plan ahead, think clearly and make sound decisions

With somewhat similar effects, driving high can increase your risk of causing a car accident by 83%. While it may not seem like much compared to alcohol, which increases the chances of an accidents by 2,200%, we can all safely agree that nearly doubling your chances of an accident is still a a raw deal for everyone on the road.

Consuming anything that impairs you is never a good idea when getting behind the wheel.


How long does cannabis stay in your system?

There are still studies going on to determine exactly how long cannabis stays in your bloodstream, but the Canadian guidelines recommend that one does not drive for 6 hours after partaking. This is based on how long the impairment might last, but if you are still feeling the effects beyond 6 hours you still shouldn’t drive.


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The way you ingest cannabis can change the way that it affects you. Commonly, inhaling or smoking cannabis will give you an instant hit and you will more than likely feel the effects of cannabis within 5 minutes, which could last for up to 3 hours. While ingesting marijuana may take 5-60 minutes to feel the effects, it could last up to 8 hours. No matter the way cannabis is consumed, the effects it has on someone’s driving capabilities result in the same symptoms with varying degrees of strength.


Drug-impaired driving laws in Ontario

The Canadian criminal code prohibits any sort of driving while impaired and the punishment of doing so can range from a mandatory fine to life imprisonment, depending on the offence.

There is a zero-tolerance policy for driving high in Ontario while under the age of 21 and/or holding a G1, G2, M1 or M2 license. Driving impaired in a vehicle that requires an A-F driver’s licence or Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR) or are driving a road-building machine has similar consequences.


Penalties for impaired driving

According to the Department of Justice, these charges carry a $1,000 minimum fine and a maximum of 10 years in prison for the first offence. On the second offence the mandatory minimum changes to 30 days in prison, and on the third offence it becomes 120 days in prison.

  • Driving with 5 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood within 2 hours of driving.
  • Any detection of LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, katamine, PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine, or 6-mam within 2 hours of driving.
  • GHB (gamma-hydroxybutyrate)
  • Blood alcohol level of 50mg per 100ml of blood plus 2.5 or more nanograms of THC per 1ml of blood within 2 hours of driving.


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Other charges carry different penalties:

  • Refusing to comply with a demand for a sobriety field test sample carries a minimum fine of $2,000.
  • Having over 2 but fewer than 5 nanograms of THC per ml of blood within 2 hours of driving carries a maximum $1,000 fine.
  • Impaired driving causing bodily harm carries a 2-year imprisonment at maximum for a summary conviction and up to 14 years of prison for an indictment.
  • Impaired driving causing death can carry a lifetime sentence in prison.


Cannabis driving test

Police are trained to complete a standardized field sobriety test (SFST) or the driver can provide an oral fluid sample if the officer suspects someone is driving under the influence of cannabis. The oral fluid sample will detect the THC levels in one’s bloodstream. Any more than 2 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in ones oral fluid and a police officer may have the grounds to place a charge or investigate further.

These are the signs that officers look for when conducting a standardized field sobriety test:

  • Red eyes
  • Muscle tremors
  • Agitations
  • Abnormal speech patterns
  • Not being able to find your own nose


Plan before you partake

There are several options you can take to eliminate the risk of impaired driving, just as if you’d planned a night of drinking:

  • Find a designated driver who will remain sober and drive everyone home
  • Take the bus, subway, or train 
  • Call an uber or a cab 
  • Call a friend or family member for a pickup
  • Stay overnight

We encourage you to read up on these informational resources as well.

Drive safely out there!

Seriously, what else can you do in 3 minutes?

Boil half an egg?

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