As part of the realization of campaign promises made by the federal Liberals, marijuana will be legalized across Canada by the summer of 2018. While this is welcome news to many, it also raises some thorny legal issues that are yet to be resolved, including how road safety will be maintained.
What Do Albertans Think About Marijuana and Impaired Driving?
In 2016, the Canadian Automobile Association (“CAA”) conducted a survey regarding the legalization of marijuana in Canada. The survey found that 61% of Albertans believe that the legalization of marijuana will lead to more dangerous roads, and 57% predict there will be an increase in impaired driving. Of those who took the survey, 22% think the police were adequately prepared for the legalization, and 59% of Albertans said marijuana is as much of a threat, or greater, than alcohol when it comes to driving. Finally, 72% of Albertans believe marijuana use impairs a driver’s ability to operate a vehicle.
It is clear that at the time of the survey, Albertans had some serious concerns regarding the legalization of marijuana and what effect it will have on their safety on the roads. But is this concern warranted?
Does Marijuana Use Lead to More Accidents?
In 2015, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a government agency, conducted a study which found that marijuana smokers had only a minimally higher risk of being involved in a traffic accident than sober drivers. They were found to have an elevated risk, approximately 1-3 times greater than that of sober drivers. While the same study found alcohol-impaired drivers had an elevated risk of 20-200 times greater than sober drivers.
Another study, involving 9 European Union countries in 2010, also found that the traffic accident risk from marijuana impairment was “not statistically significant.” This was the largest population-based study on marijuana conducted to date.
However, there are impairments that result from the use of marijuana. These impairments include:
- Delayed reaction time;
- Impairment in concentration, focus, and attention
- Difficulties with short-term memory and visual function
- Impairment in motor coordination
These impairments are exacerbated when combined with other drugs, including alcohol.
What is Alberta doing to cope with the Federal Legislation?
The Alberta government passed a bill concerning the production, purchase, distribution, and use of marijuana on November 30th, 2017, after consulting with Albertans throughout the year.
The Bill includes changes to existing legislation. For road safety, the government will make amendments to the Traffic Safety Act, which is the legislation that governs our roads. These changes include the following:
- The Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) has a zero-alcohol tolerance. It will now include a zero tolerance for cannabis, cannabis/alcohol combination, and other illegal drugs (this mimics changes at the federal level, where the Criminal Code of Canada will be amended to create new drug-impaired driving offences. These new offences will have specified blood-drug concentration limits for THC, which is the main “mind-altering” ingredient in marijuana);
- Provincial sanctions for drivers with a blood drug concentration or blood drug/alcohol concentration over the limits outlined in regulations under the Criminal Code of Canada. The sanctions will be the same as those for existing criminal impaired-driving offences, such as alcohol-impaired driving, including:
- immediate license suspension;
- vehicle seizure;
- remedial education; and
- participation in an ignition interlock program; and
- An immediate 90-day, fixed-term license suspension for drivers who meet the criteria to be charged with impaired driving under the Criminal Code of Canada, followed by participation in a one-year provincial ignition interlock program;
- Drivers who do not participate will remain suspended for the year. This replaces the previous sanction that suspended a driver’s license until the outcome of criminal court proceedings.
What does this mean for drivers in Alberta?
Drivers who are under the influence of drugs or alcohol and cause motor vehicle accidents are not only going to face potential criminal charges, and traffic infractions, but they may also face the prospect of civil (i.e. personal injury) lawsuits in the event other people are injured.
If you have been injured in a motor vehicle accident and the driver was impaired due to the use of marijuana, our Personal Injury team can help. We have a wealth of experience handling motor vehicle accident claims and have success inside and outside the courtroom, negotiating or arguing fair settlements for our clients. To speak to one of our lawyers, call 1-800-480-3534 or contact us online. We represent injured clients in Calgary and throughout Alberta.