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Pot legalization could increase auto accidents, top insurer warns


February 13, 2018   by Greg Meckbach


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As Canada’s senators debate a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana, Canada’s largest property and casualty insurer is concerned about the “potential” for more auto collisions arising from the actions of stoned drivers.

In its management discussion and analysis of its financial results for the fourth quarter of 2017, Intact Financial Corp. noted some concerns over marijuana legalization including “higher frequency and severity of auto insured losses as a result of impaired driving.”

In the United States, in states where pot is legal, there has been some “pressure” on auto insurance claims arising from marijuana impairment “from a frequency standpoint,” suggested Darren Godfrey, senior vice president of personal lines for Intact, during a conference call Feb. 7.

Godfrey did not go into detail on U.S. statistics. The Denver Post newspaper reported in 2017 that the number of Colorado drivers who tested positive for marijuana after fatal collisions was 115 in 2016 – more than double the 47 in 2013 (the year before Colorado legalized marijuana). The Denver Post analyzed U.S. federal and local coroner statistics.

“To the extent that we start to see potential pressures around the rate of car accidents and so forth … we are very active with [the Insurance Bureau of Canada] in talking with governments around the policing and so forth of cannabis usage,” Godfrey said Feb. 7 during the Intact financial conference call, commenting in general and not on the Denver Post report.

Canada does not have a federally-approved device for police to test the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the active ingredient in marijuana) in the blood. However, Public Safety Canada has tested such devices.

If passed into law, Bill C-45 would make it legal for people 18 and older to possess and share up to 30 grams of dried cannabis. It would no longer be a criminal offence for Canadians 17 and younger to possess up to five grams. The rationales for decriminalization include reducing the burden on the criminal justice system and keeping profits out of the hands of criminals. It would still be a criminal offence to sell, produce and import cannabis without a permit.

Prime Minister Justice Trudeau said earlier he hopes the marijuana legalization bill will be passed into law this summer.

Intact officials want to ensure “a level of enforcement is there relative to cannabis use” of drivers, similar to testing drivers for alcohol impairment, Godfrey said February 7 during Intact’s earnings conference call.

“With alcohol there is already an approved [roadside testing] process that has existed for some 40 years,” federal justice department lawyer Greg Yost said February 7 before the Standing Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs. That committee is studying Bill C-46, a “companion bill” to the marijuana legalization bill.

If passed into law, Bill C-46 would give Canadian police the power to use saliva testing devices at the roadside. These devices would indicate whether or not there is THC in the blood, but they do not indicate whether the driver is above the legal limit, which Bill C-46 proposes to set by regulation.  Drivers who test positive for THC at the roadside could be ordered to undergo blood testing or evaluation by a police drug recognition expert.

But this “is not a process that lends itself easily to an immediate arrest at the roadside,” Yost told the Senate legal and constitutional committee. By contrast, an alcohol roadside test will indicate whether the driver blows a fail or warn. Yost said a fail means the driver has a blood alcohol level of more than 0.1% (having more than .08% is a criminal offence) and blowing a warn means the blood alcohol level is .05 to .08%.

Police in some provinces can temporarily impound a vehicle and/or suspend the driver’s license immediately when drivers tested for drunkenness blow a warn.