With the recent legalization of marijuana across Canada, knowing more about the impaired driving laws is crucial. Here is what you should know about drug-impaired driving, the legalization of marijuana, the effects of cannabis and more.

Legalization of Marijuana in Canada

Canada was the second country in the world, after Uruguay, to legalize recreational marijuana nationwide. The Cannabis Act allows adults to grow a maximum of four plants of marijuana per household, as well as purchase and carry up to 30g of dried cannabis.

The legalization of marijuana happened throughout the country, but each province is responsible for its distribution systems, rules, and applicable provincial laws. Nonetheless, driving under the influence of cannabis is considered impaired driving and this is a federal charge. We’ll get to that.

How does Marijuana affect driving?

The effect of Cannabis can differ from one person to the next. It depends on how it was consumed, in what quantity, its variety, and its THC levels. But, consuming even a small amount of the drug can affect your ability to react fast, which is essential when driving.

Driving a vehicle requires you to be alert, with rapid reflexes and complete focus. The consumption of Marijuana can:

  • Affect your motor skills
  • Slow your reaction time
  • Impair your concentration

It can also affect your ability to make quick decisions and handle unexpected situations. In fact, even over-the-counter medications can affect a person’s ability to drive safely.

Before driving, make sure you aren’t impaired to ensure your safety and the safety of the people around you.

How does the Legalization of Marijuana impact drivers?

Marijuana is legal, but impaired driving is a federal offence. Now, more than ever, police officers will be on the lookout for impaired drivers.

In Canada, impaired driving is already a massive issue and considered the leading criminal cause of death and injury. But, other places like Colorado didn’t show a significant increase in the number of accidents after the legalization of Marijuana.


Plus, the government has several initiatives to combat drug-impaired driving, such as campaigns, strengthening laws and drug screeners. (https://www.canada.ca/en/services/policing/police/community-safety-policing/impaired-driving/drug-impaired-driving.html)

Each province has also taken action to increase safety when it comes to traffic laws. For Ontario drivers, there will be some changes at the beginning of 2019, mostly in the price of the fines.

Drug-impaired drivers

When it comes to drug-impaired drivers, the first signs police officers notice is weaving within a lane and slow reaction times. If they notice these or any other suspicious actions they will ask for the driver to pull over.

Then, they will focus on the driver’s ability to follow instructions. They can also pay attention to the person’s physical appearance. If the driver has dilated pupils, impaired balance and coordination, these could be signs of a drug-impaired driver.

How can the police know if you’re drug-impaired?

If the police have reason to believe the driver is impaired, they can request the driver to take a roadside Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST).

The SFST can help them determine if the driver is under the influence of any substance. If the driver fails the test, the police can charge the driver and apply the immediate penalties.

Apart from that, qualified officers can run a Drug Recognition Evaluation (DRE), which helps them to determine if there is impairment and if drugs caused it.

With the new legislation, officers are allowed to use drug-screening devices that can detect the presence of many drugs. For instance, the oral fluid drug screeners can identify in the driver’s saliva the levels of THC, cocaine, and methamphetamine. These screeners are non-invasive, fast and accurate.

Can you refuse to comply with any of drug testing procedures?

It’s a criminal offence to refuse the tests. It goes on your criminal record, and there could be severe consequences. So, you must comply with the SFST and the DRE; otherwise the police officer can charge you.

Drug-impaired driving laws in Canada

Under the Criminal Code of Canada, the police can charge drivers for impaired driving regardless of the substance. Section 253 of the Criminal Code states that it’s an offence to operate a motor vehicle while the person’s ability is impaired by drug or alcohol. (https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-57.html#docCont)

Since drug-impaired driving puts your life and the lives of others at risk, you could face harsh consequences. A drug-impaired charge can lead to the suspension of your licence, fines, criminal charges and jail time.

Due to the legalization of Marijuana, the Canadian government has changed how the drug-impaired law works to make sure it’s efficient and straightforward.

The new legislation gives police officers extra tools to access the possible impairment of the driver. They’ve also added new offences to address the THC level changes caused by cannabis.

The THC level for a summary conviction offence is:

  • 2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5 ng of THC per milliliter (ml) of blood

For new hybrid offences, which are a mix of drugs or drugs and alcohol, here is what the levels look like:

  • 5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood combined with other substances
  • 2.5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood combined with alcohol

What are the penalties for impaired driving?

According to Canada’s laws, if you’re convicted with the lowest level of THC in your blood (2ng per ml of blood), you could face a maximum of a $1000 fine.

Hybrid offences are more pressing and could lead up to mandatory jail terms. First-time offenders will need to pay a fine of at least $1000. But, second-time offenders will go to jail for 30 days or more. Third-time offenders get a minimum of 120 days of imprisonment.

If the drug-impaired driver caused bodily harm, he or she could get up to 10 years of jail term. What’s more, if the impairment caused death, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.


Immediate penalties for impaired driving in Ontario

If you fail the SFST and the police officer determines that Cannabis, other drugs or alcohol impaired your abilities to drive, you’ll face immediate penalties.

The penalties vary according to your record. They can go from 3 to 30 days of licence suspension, and the fines range from $250 to $450, plus other expenses, such as the licence reinstatement for $198.

How can you avoid impaired driving by Cannabis?

Before getting behind the wheel while high, remember that it’s a serious offence that could lead to drastic consequences. To avoid impaired driving, make sure you always have a plan to get home. There are always options, such as:

  • Having a designated driver
  • Calling someone to pick you up
  • Getting a cab or similar service
  • Taking public transportation

Now that marijuana is legalized, it’s more important than ever to be responsible when getting behind the wheel. Using cannabis, other drugs or drinking alcohol impacts your ability to drive safely. So, if you have consumed any drugs, even small amounts, make sure you find someone else to drive you home.