There has been a lot of talk about the dangers of smoking weed and driving since recreational cannabis was legalized in the fall of 2018. This has prompted reform of the Ontario government’s impaired driving laws to better deal with a potential influx of people driving under the influence of THC.
It’s important to note that just because pot has been legalized, it doesn’t mean drivers will suddenly lose their heads and turn into irresponsible citizens. If you think about it, not much has changed as it’s still a given that nobody should drive while they are impaired. In this respect, cannabis is no different than alcohol, even if the recent publicity regarding THC and impaired driving laws seems to suggest our streets will now be flooded by dangerous, high drivers.
Driving while impaired by THC has always been illegal and any driver caught with an illegal blood-THC concentration will face penalties in Ontario and Canada.
Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis
If you’re wondering, “Is driving while high illegal?” the answer is YES. Driving while high is both illegal and dangerous because cannabis can slow your reaction time, affects motor skills and affects your decision-making abilities, raising the risk of being involved in an accident on the road.
Impaired driving is the leading cause of death and injury in Canada, with recent studies showing that the percentage of drivers killed in Canada who tested positive for drug impairment (40%), is now higher than that of drivers who tested positive for alcohol (33%). It is important to note that the term “drug impairment” includes all types of drugs and not just THC.
Cannabis and Driving
Cannabis use affects each person differently and a person’s level of impairment depends on several factors. These include:
- The method of cannabis consumption – smoked, inhaled or ingested
- The quantity of cannabis that has been consumed
- The level of THC contained within the type or strain of cannabis that has been consumed
- Unlike with alcohol, there are no guidelines stating how much cannabis can be consumed and still drive safely or how long you should wait to drive after consuming cannabis
Prohibited Levels of THC
As with alcohol, there are regulations in place regarding driver’s blood drug concentrations.
- Drivers found with a THC blood concentration of over 2 ng (nanograms) but under 5 ng of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood could face a straight summary conviction (fines)
- Drivers found with a THC blood concentration of over 5 ng of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood could face a drug-alone hybrid offence
- Drivers found with a THC blood concentration of over 2.5 ng of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood combined with 50 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100ml of blood could face a drugs-with-alcohol hybrid offence
There is zero tolerance for all young, novice and commercial drivers when it comes to having cannabis (THC) in their system. Zero tolerance applies to all drivers who are:
- Under 21 years of age
- Have a G1, G2, M1 or M2 vehicle license
- Operating a vehicle which requires the driver to have an A-F driver’s license or Commercial Vehicle Operator’s Registration (CVOR)
- Operating a road-building machine
Penalties for Driving Under the Influence of Cannabis (THC)
If a police officer determines that you have been driving while under the influence of marijuana (THC) you will face penalties including:
- Roadside license suspension
- Fines and financial penalties
- Potential vehicle impoundment
- Potential criminal record
- Potential jail time
How Do Police Test for THC?
The technology required for testing if a driver is impaired from THC is still new and not as accurate as those used for testing alcohol impairment.
THC stays in your system much longer than alcohol and detecting it is more complicated than alcohol. If you are suspected of driving under the influence of THC you may be asked to perform various tests to establish if you are impaired.
Police officers have the power to pull over any vehicle if they suspect the driver is impaired. If the police officer suspects you of impaired driving, they may ask to conduct a Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST) at the current location. This test can involve the officer checking for red eyes, lack of coordination, muscle tremors, abnormal speech patterns, and agitation. If the officer suspects that you are indeed impaired, you may be asked to provide a saliva sample to be tested with an oral fluid drug screener. These screening devices are quick, non-invasive and accurate to sensing high doses of THC in the bloodstream.
The oral fluid drug test is set to alert only if a high concentration of THC exceeding 25 ng of THC per ml. This test is designed to only trigger at high percentages so that false positives are avoided.
If you fail either of these tests you may be taken to the police station where the more sophisticated Drug Recognition Expert Evaluation (DRE) will be performed. This includes taking blood pressure, body temperature, pulse, and other clinical indicator readings. Your pupil size may also be measured, and a blood sample may be requested to determine the exact level of THC in your system.
Can I Have Cannabis in the Car While Driving?
Cannabis follows the same driving while in possession laws as alcohol. This means that you can have up to the allowed maximum carry amount of 30g of dried flower cannabis with you in your car, provided it is unopened or is kept in a container that is fastened closed and out of reach of the driver and the vehicles other occupants.
Can I Smoke Weed in My Car?
As with alcohol laws, it is illegal to consume cannabis while you are in the car and in control of a motor vehicle. This means it is prohibited to consume cannabis in a parked vehicle, even if the driver is sitting in the back seat.
How Long Should I Wait After Consuming Cannabis (THC) Before Driving?
The answer is easy – don’t drive while impaired. There is no way to be sure how long it takes for cannabis (THC) to leave your system because there are too many variables involved. Each person reacts differently, and cannabis strains vary in potency (THC content). However, once you know how marijuana affects your body, it is not difficult to feel if you are impaired or if the effects of cannabis have worn off and you are safe to drive. It is also important to remember that eating THC causes its effects to last much longer.
If you’re not sure, it’s better to play it safe and plan not to drive if you’re getting high. There are plenty of other options such as getting a ride from a parent or a friend, taxis, Uber’s or public transportation.
Can I Consume CBD and Drive?
Not all cannabis contains THC. CBD is relied on by many users to treat medical conditions and their symptoms as prescribed by their doctor. CBD does not induce the psychoactive effects of THC and therefore it is ok to drive with CBD in your system.
The police are not testing for CBD because it does not affect motor skills, concentration or decision-making and doesn’t get users high like THC does. It is extremely important to be responsible and ensure that the CBD you are consuming does not have small or trace amounts of THC in it, and most importantly, make sure that you do not feel impaired before you drive.
THC and Driving Exceptions for Medical Cannabis Users
The Ontario government allows more leeway for medical cannabis users who are found driving with THC in their system. This does not apply to young, novice and commercial drivers who are subject to the zero tolerance laws. Again, it is the police officer’s discretion to determine if your ability to drive safely is impaired. It is always the vehicle operator’s responsibility to drive only when not impaired.
As you normally would, make sure you have your medical license with you at all times, so that you can easily inform the police officer that you use cannabis for medical purposes.
It is illegal to drive while impaired from THC. Like with alcohol, prescription medications, or fatigue, drivers who have consumed THC need to be aware of how they feel before they consider driving. There are even home testing kits (oral fluid drug tests) available that will allow drivers to determine if they have a safe THC blood concentration before getting behind the wheel. It is also recommended that novice cannabis users plan not to drive the day they consume cannabis until they know how THC affects them.
THC impaired driving is still fairly murky waters because unlike with alcohol, there haven’t been enough studies to concretely say what THC blood concentration causes a person to be impaired. For that reason, THC levels in the blood should not be the sole indicator of impairment which is why individual officers are tasked with determining if a person is obviously impaired by THC.