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A Sober Reminder for Safe Driving This Holiday Season

Edibles are almost here, and police are reminding drivers of the pitfalls of driving high

Two police officers in high-visibility jackets doing safety checks on a road in Ontario

It’s been a little over a year since cannabis became legal in Canada. Next month, legal cannabis-infused foods and candies, commonly known as edibles, are expected to make their debut in stores and online.

Edibles are the second most popular way of consuming cannabis, after smoking, and appeal to cannabis newbies. “There are some concerns when it comes to road safety,” says Teresa Di Felice, assistant vice-president of government and community relations with CAA South Central Ontario. “You have people who have never used cannabis who are going to be trying it for the first time.”

With public safety in mind—and with the holidays coming up—here are seven things everyone should know about cannabis and driving.

1. Driving high is extremely dangerous

A growing body of research shows that cannabis can dramatically affect your ability to drive. The drug blunts your coordination, slows your reaction time and causes you to misjudge distances.

2. A surprising number of people drive while impaired

Despite the dangers, approximately 1.2 million Ontarians have gotten behind the wheel while high, according to a recent CAA study conducted by DIG Insights. That’s a sign many Canadians still don’t understand the dangers of cannabis-impaired driving, Di Felice says. “Many people have a general perception that when they consume cannabis they drive as well as they do when they’re sober.”

3. People are combining alcohol and cannabis

The same CAA study found that more than half of Ontario drivers who use cannabis typically pair it with another substance, like alcohol. “These two drugs work in very different ways, and combined, the impact is quite severe,” Di Felice says. “It’s a cocktail for disaster.”

4. Driving while high has stiff penalties

The legal consequences of driving high mirror those for driving drunk. If a driver has more than 5 nanograms of THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis) in their blood, they face a minimum fine of $1,000 for a first offence. A second offence will net at least 30 days in jail and a third, 120. Those penalties can be combined with licence suspensions and a host of other fines. The risks associated with injuring or causing death while driving impaired can be as harsh as facing life in prison.

5. The legalization of edibles creates new dangers

Unlike a joint, which makes smokers feel high almost immediately, cannabis-infused food sometimes takes hours to take effect. Const. Reed Holland of the York Regional Police says police are worried that new edibles users will jump behind the wheel thinking they’re fine, only to be overwhelmed by a high mid-drive. “If you aren’t aware of how long it takes to react in your body and what your reaction is going to be, that’s a concern for us.”

6. Police are stepping up checks for impaired drivers

This holiday season, police around Ontario will be ramping up patrols for drug-impaired drivers, including the York Regional Police. “We conduct ride enforcement year-round,” Holland says. “But for sure, there is an increased presence during the holiday season.”

Federal funding that accompanied the legalization of marijuana has allowed the region to train a new cadre of officers to recognize the signs of drug-impaired driving, Holland said. The region also has oral screening devices, which can automatically detect cannabis in a driver’s system.

7. Ignorance is not a legal defence

If new cannabis users are caught driving high, they only have themselves to blame, Holland says. “There is zero excuse. If you’re going to use the product, you need to use it responsibly, just like alcohol.”

His recommendation? If you plan on using cannabis, don’t drive. “There are way too many options now for you to get around safely. The costs are considerably cheaper than a criminal charge. And more importantly, it’s safer for all other road users.”

Want to know more about cannabis and driving?

Get the facts on cannabis-impaired driving from CAA.

Image credit: courtesy of CAA