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Cannabis may be legal in Canada, but driving high isn’t

This article discusses the illegality of and police testing for using cannabis while driving, along with immediate consequences possible upon arrest.

On Oct. 17, 2018, Cannabis, also called marijuana, pot or weed, became legal here in Canada. While many Ontario residents may have applauded this move, they also need to remember that making its use and possession legal did not make it legal to drive while using it.

Ontario residents pulled over by police could face charges if they are driving after having consumed drugs. In fact, the rules regarding this form of impairment are similar to those for drinking alcohol and driving. As such, certain individuals cannot have any trace of cannabis in their systems while driving. For instance, those under the age of 21, those with certain driving licenses and those driving road-building machines fall under Canada’s zero tolerance laws for drugs and alcohol while driving.

What happens during the traffic stop?

There may not be a roadside test for cannabis use as there is for alcohol use yet, but that does not mean police have no way to ascertain whether an individual is too impaired to drive. However, individuals should know that this will more than likely change in the near future. Police will soon have access to a saliva collection kit and reader designed to detect cannabis and cocaine.

Once pulled over, police can require a driver suspected of impairment by cannabis to participate in the Standardized Field Sobriety Test. Once police have access to the above-referenced cannabis detection kits, officers can require drivers to provide a saliva sample there on the side of the road. Failing to comply with these requests could result in additional charges. If police suspect a driver of impairment by cannabis, the following can happen:

  • Impounding of the driver’s vehicle
  • Suspending the driver’s licence immediately
  • Assessing the driver a fine
  • Charging the driver with a criminal offence potentially leading to jail time and a criminal record

The level of suspected impairment often determines the offence or offences the driver could face. If enough evidence of impairment exists, police will transport the individual to the police station for further drug evaluation tests. As part of those tests, police can demand a saliva, urine or blood sample for testing. Again, refusing to comply could lead to additional criminal charges.

What potential consequences could a driver face?

Facing charges for a criminal offence associated with the use of cannabis while driving could result in certain penalties upon conviction depending on the circumstances. As expected, the higher the concentration and/or possession of cannabis at the time of arrest, the more serious the consequences. What many people fail to realise is that the ramifications of a criminal conviction extend beyond any penalties the court imposes. A person’s personal and professional lives often suffer as well.

A conviction could be problematic for a criminal record check and affect an individual’s ability to maintain or obtain gainful employment. Not having the ability to drive even for a relatively short time could interfere with the ability to get to work and take care of family members. For these reasons and more, it would be wise to consult with a lawyer as soon as possible in order to achieve the best outcome possible to any charges resulting from an arrest.