Canadian Underwriter

The number of Ontarians who drive stoned (hint: lots)

October 10, 2019   by Greg Meckbach

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Hundreds of thousands of Ontarians have driven a vehicle while very high on cannabis, poll results released Wednesday by CAA South Central Ontario imply.

One in five Ontario drivers surveyed, aged 19 through 70, are cannabis users, CAA SCO said in a release. Based on the total number of people licensed to drive in Ontario and extrapolating the poll results, CAA SCO concludes that 1.2 million Ontario drivers aged 19 to 70 have, at some point, driven high after consuming cannabis.

“People are knowingly feeling the effects of consuming cannabis and getting behind the wheel,” Teresa Di Felice, assistant vice president of government and community relations at CAA SCO, said in an interview. “There is a myth out there, where people feel like it doesn’t impact their driving.”

Of the respondents who said they are cannabis users, 72% reported they waited three hours or less to get behind the wheel, with 27% feeling very or somewhat high when they did.

The online survey of 1,510 licensed Ontario drivers – aged 19 to 70 – was conducted this past June. The margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, Di Felice told Canadian Underwriter.

Respondents were asked a large number of questions about cannabis usage, impaired driving habits, education efforts and law enforcement.

In October 2018, a federal law decriminalizing recreational dry cannabis possession (in certain specific circumstances) took effect.

There is no hard and fast rule as to how long one should wait after consuming cannabis before driving, said Di Felice.

“Although we are looking for that magic answer as to how long to wait, it doesn’t really exist for anything, even alcohol,” she said. “You might have one drink today at six o’clock and you might feel fine, but you have that same beverage tomorrow at six o’clock and, depending on what you ate or something going on with your body, you could feel tipsy.”

In 2018, the Canadian Automobile Association funded a study in which cannabis users did a series of computerized driving tests. Those tests were done after the subjects consumed less than a third of what is in a typical joint. Many showed signs of impairment five hours after consuming the cannabis. The results were published last year. The study was done by the McGill University Health Centre

CAA’s affiliates include the CAA Club Group of Companies, which owns CAA SCO, CAA Manitoba, CAA Insurance Company and Echelon Insurance.

It is a criminal offence in Canada to drive with more than two nanograms per milliliter of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in your blood. Having a concentration of 2 to 5 nanograms of THC per mL carries a maximum fine of $1,000. Having more than that carries a minimum fine of $1,000 and a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison on a first offence. The mandatory minimum sentence for a second offence – for more than nanograms of THC per mL after two hours of driving – is 30 days in jail.

Police officers have the power to demand that drivers provide a saliva sample for drug testing if the officer “reasonably” suspects the driver is impaired by drugs.

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