car accident lawyers Vancouver

Is it Illegal to Drive Under the Influence of Marijuana?

As a team of car accident lawyers in Vancouver, the team at STA make it a point to stay on top of changing laws. This month, the CBC released a story about Canadians who were driving after using cannabis. According to the story “A troubling new survey from Statistics Canada says that more than a million Canadians have reported being the passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who has consumed cannabis within two hours of driving.”

For some of us, this may feel like a head scratcher. Alcohol has been legal for decades but most of us wouldn’t consider driving inebriated. But as a team of car accident lawyers in Vancouver, there’s no question that the laws around cannabis use are still fuzzy, which may have contributed to the Statistics Canada finding that nearly “5 per cent of Canadians (about 1.4 million people) reported being in a car driven by someone who had consumed cannabis within that two-hour timeframe.”

The Motor Vehicle Act

The Motor Vehicle Act has a zero tolerance policy for alcohol and drugs.  Those found violating this will be given a 12-hour ban. While the effects of marijuana use generally aren’t considered as bad as alcohol, studies have shown it can affect spatial perception. Drivers who are high may have slower reaction times, which puts them at a greater risk for accidents.

In Toronto, police have been trying a pilot test for detecting high drivers. While preliminary results of the roadside tests seem hopeful, until it is approved, police have to opt for the much more controversial route of ordering a blood test. However, drugs react very differently from alcohol. There is no threshold—no two joint limit—that accurately dictates when a person is impaired. And the results of many tests have been challenged in court.

What really matters is the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in a person’s system and THC content can vary across product.  The issue is even further complicated by the fact that the presence of THC alone in someone’s body does not necessarily mean the person is impaired and one level of THC can affect two people in very different ways.   Bill C-46 of the Cannabis Act stipulates that a driver who is found to have at least two nanograms, but less than five, of THC per millilitre of blood could face a maximum fine of $1000.

It should be noted that the Canadian criminal code is quite clear when it comes to impaired driving:

Every one commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle or vessel or operates or assists in the operation of an aircraft or of railway equipment or has the care or control of a motor vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment, whether it is in motion or not, while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle, vessel, aircraft or railway equipment is impaired by alcohol or a drug;”

Under the new legislation, police could demand saliva tests from people suspected of driving high.

A person can also lose their drivers licence for 90 days if:

  1. A blood test shows the level of drugs above a certain amount, taken within two hours of driving;
  2. A blood test shows a combination of both drugs and alcohol in the blood within two hours of driving; and/or
  3. The two above conditions apply along with evidence of poor or erratic driving.

ICBC has the right to find the person in breach of their insurance agreement, making him/her personally responsible for the cost of any injury and property damage claims arising from a car accident that has resulted as a result of driving high.

Marijuana Use in BC

While the legislation legalizing marijuana is federal and will create uniform rules governing cultivation of the drug, many details about how and where it can be bought and used will differ across provinces.

This is what’s anticipated in British Columbia for regulations around cannabis use:

Minimum age: 19

Vendors: Public stores run by the BC Liquor Distribution Board and private stores in urban areas.

Number of stores: Not yet determined.

Usage: Allowed in public spaces where smoking is permitted, except for places frequented by children.  Municipalities and landlords may provide additional restrictions.  It will be banned in vehicles.

Additional Information Regarding Marijuana and Motor Vehicles:

  • Marijuana transported in a motor vehicle will need to be in a sealed package, or inaccessible to vehicle occupants;
  • The use of cannabis in any form will also be banned for all occupants of a vehicle;
  • There will be a zero tolerance restriction for the presence of marijuana in drivers who are in the Graduated Licensing Program (aka have their L or N) the same way there is a zero tolerance for alcohol; and
  • Social hosts may run the risk of being considered legally liable for guests who use marijuana at their homes and subsequently injure themselves or others, for example in a motor vehicle accident.

As a team of car accident lawyers in Vancouver,, the takeaway is that marijuana, like alcohol, must be used responsibly. Driving high puts you and others at risk. There will be stiff legal penalties for driving impaired—and it will be worse if there’s an accident.

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