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Marijuana & Driving: Can I Drive While High?

Marijuana & Driving: Can I Drive While High?

If you have ever watched Cheech & Chong or Harold and Kumar, you'll notice that no one seems to be worried about driving while high - it's heroic and hilarious - good entertainment.

The problem is that it's not just a movie thing: half of marijuana users think it is acceptable to drive stoned, according to a major national study by PSB Research in 2019. But is operating a car high on marijuana not that dangerous?

Facts and Statistics

Source: #DontDriveHigh (Government of Canada)

According to a survey conducted by the Canadian Automobile Association in 2019, more than one-quarter of young Canadians admit to driving under the influence of cannabis — or being in a vehicle while the driver was high.

Impaired driving is the primary criminal cause of bodily harm or death in Canada. 40% of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes tested positive for drugs. This number exceeds that of drivers who tested positive for alcohol. Still think driving high is not as dangerous as driving drunk?

Cannabis is present in nearly half of drug-positive fatal crashes. MADD Canada reports that 618 deaths from auto accidents in Canada in 2014 involved drivers who tested positive for drugs. Another 350+ deaths were attributed to crashes where the driver tested positive for both drugs and alcohol. Remember that these numbers only tell us about the fatal accidents and not the thousands more that caused property damage and injury.

Think driving while high is just a big city problem? Think again - in Nova Scotia alone, five to ten drug-impaired driving arrests are made per month in 2020.

Is it legal to drive high?

Operating a vehicle while high on cannabis is a criminal offence.

Marijuana became legal across Canada under the Cannabis Act at the stroke of midnight on October 17, 2019. It was indeed a historical event. But while many Canadian took pride in this milestone, many more questioned the influence and consequences of cannabis on driving.

In June 2018, the Canadian government passed Bill C-46 that added three new offences to the Criminal Code of Canada:

  • Driving with 2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5 ng of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood.
  • Driving with 5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood.
  • Driving with a combination of 50 milligrams (mg) of alcohol (or more) plus 2.5 ng or more of THC per 1 ml of blood.

Source: Impaired Driving Laws (Department of Justice, Government of Canada)

But is it safe to drive while high?

In general, consumption of marijuana causes people to feel euphoric, relaxed and experienced heightened sensory capabilities. Some will also experience sleepiness, lack of concentration, forgetfulness and an altered perception of reality - not exactly the best conditions for operating a vehicle.

When you drive a vehicle, you need to be alert and focused. Consuming even small amounts of cannabis affects your ability to react and increases your chance of being in a crash. Cannabis can impair your ability to drive by:

  • affecting motor skills
  • slowing reaction time
  • impairing short term memory and concentration
  • causing drivers to vary the driving speed and to wander
  • reducing the ability to make decisions quickly or handle unexpected events

As you can imagine, it is not safe to drive while high on cannabis (or meth, painkillers, or any other drugs).

Is driving while high worse than drunk?

Both alcohol and cannabis consumption can lead to lapses in your decision-making and spatial awareness. Both can inhibit your reaction speed and alertness on the road. And just like alcohol, how you react to cannabis varies depending on the potency and the person. Factors include a person's body weight, ability to metabolize the substance, and tolerance level.

The answer is that it's different from person to person, and it's impossible to say if driving drunk is better or worse than driving while high. But, from all statistics, we know that both have deadly consequences. 

How long should I wait before driving after consumption?

Because everyone is different, it is hard to say how long you should wait before driving after consuming cannabis. Cannabis can impair each person differently. The impairment can depend on the method of consumption (i.e. smoked, inhaled, ingested), the quantity of cannabis consumed, and the variety of cannabis and its THC levels, including cannabis prescribed for medical use.

Experts suggest waiting a minimum of four to six hours before driving but do keep in mind that many situations require a longer waiting time.

  • new users
  • users who have consumed a lot
  • users who have combined cannabis with other drugs or alcohol

In other words, if you don't feel well, don't drive. Or better yet - if you plan on consuming cannabis, don't drive.

Information for parents

Young people continue to be the largest group of drivers who die in crashes and test positive for alcohol or drugs. Yet, only 11 percent of parents surveyed said they had discussed the risks of driving under the influence with their teenagers.

You probably don't think that drugged driving is that common. But a survey conducted on people ages 16 and older in 2017 showed that 21.4 million surveyed admitted to driving after drinking alcohol, and 12.8 million drove after using illicit drugs.

Carolyn Swinson, the director of victim services at the Toronto chapter of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, said in an interview that parents need to have more honest conversations about the risks associated with cannabis. The important thing to teach our young and new drivers on the road is that even if something is legal, it doesn't mean that driving on it isn't illegal. If marijuana is legal where you live, it isn't legal for you to get in the car while buzzed or high and swing through a drive-thru.

Start a conversation with your children about impaired driving. It could save lives.

How to Stay Safe on the Road

“If you’re going to be going to a party and consuming alcohol, everyone already knows the social acceptability processes around that — you’re going to have to take an Uber, you’re going to have to stay over or take public transit,” Kristine D’Arbelles, senior manager public affairs at CAA, said. “The same thing should be happening for cannabis.”

How to protect yourself from a driver who's driving under influence?

There are many different ways that we can feel safe on the road. Even if we know we aren't the ones who are drinking or doing drugs and driving, we can make sure we have the proof we need if an accident occurs - a dash cam can help! A dash cam is an instrument that you install in your car to record your surroundings while driving or when your vehicle is parked. There are even cams that can record inside your car or behind your vehicle if you choose to purchase that type of model.

Looking for something essential and nothing fancy? We have a few top picks for those looking for the best starter dash cam for their young and new driver, including the Thinkware FA200, the BlackVue DR590X and the VIOFO A129 Duo. For those looking for something more inclusive, more advanced, we do have the Thinkware U1000 and the BlackVue DR900X, both top-of-the-line 4K UHD dash cams with Cloud and advanced parking mode features.

The belief that cannabis isn't as dangerous as alcohol is dangerous thinking. If you plan on consuming cannabis, don't drive. And, don't get behind the wheel or get in a car with an impaired driver — it's just not worth the risk.

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