While it has been legal to smoke cannabis in Canada for some time now, there are some exceptions to this rule.
Like alcohol, there are many situations where it’s not just inappropriate, but illegal, to consume it. One of these, and hopefully the most obvious, is when driving.
Is driving high in Canada illegal?
It is certainly illegal to drive while high – and Canadian police take this offence as seriously as a DUI for alcohol.
But the issue with cannabis and driving is very nuanced.
When it comes to driving under the influence of alcohol, things are pretty simple. Alcohol, firstly, impairs motor function (your ability to move, not your car’s) and decreases response times behind the wheel. This is well established in scientific literature.
With cannabis however, it is not as well established how it affects driving. Certainly, driving exceptionally high is dangerous. Studies have shown this, and it has been estimated that the legalization of cannabis in Canada could amount to a 16% increase in driving fatalities.
However, it is important to understand that people may have vastly varied reactions to cannabis use, just like there are levels of alcohol intoxication, and it is difficult to tell how much marijuana is too much. This differs from person to person, from strain to strain, and from day to day even.
Secondly, and more importantly for the law, it is easy for police to tell whether you are drunk at the wheel or not.
Roadside tests are generally given to determine your level of impairment, then a breathalyzer can be used to discover how much alcohol is currently in your bloodstream, this is your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level.
This is a good indicator of intoxication because alcohol is processed by the body relatively quickly – if you drank on Saturday night, you won’t still have a BAC level on Monday morning, for example. Because of this, BAC is generally a good indicator of intoxication. If there’s excessive alcohol in your bloodstream, you’re drunk.
But the same cannot be said for cannabis. In fact, the psychoactive chemical in marijuana, THC, stays in the body for quite a long time.
“Typically, THC is detectable for up to 90 days in hair, anywhere between 3 days to a month or longer in urine (depending on how often the person uses), up to 48 hours in saliva, and up to 36 hours in blood.”
Quote courtesy of American Addiction Centers
Given this information, we know that THC is detectable in the breath and bloodstream for a much longer time than alcohol. However, this length of time is much longer than the high you get from smoking or even eating edibles (which last much longer than inhaled cannabis).
Although THC is detectable in the body for a long time, the levels of THC in the body are much higher when you are currently intoxicated.
“A Johns Hopkins University study from 1995 found that four puffs of smokable marijuana with 1.75 percent THC content translates to 57 nanograms per milliliter, and 10 puffs as much as 99 ng/mL. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says levels of 100-200 ng/mL are “routinely encountered” after smoking but quickly dissipate.”
What happens if you get caught driving high in Canada?
The charges for driving high in Canada can be very serious – including jail time if you are a repeat offender.
Charges for driving while high are broken into three categories:
Driving with 2 ng/ml but less than 5 ng/ml can result in a fine of up to $1000.
This is the least serious offence.
Driving with more than 5 ng/ml results in a more serious penalty.
For a first offence, you face a mandatory minimum fine of $1000.
For a second offence, you face a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail.
Third and all subsequent offences result in a mandatory minimum of 120 days in jail.
Hybrid offences are offences that can be prosecuted either by indictment, in more serious cases, or by summary conviction, in less serious cases.
Driving with more than 5ng/ml constitutes a hybrid offence.
In addition to this, having a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, combined with a THC level greater than 2.5 ng/ml within two hours of driving would also be a hybrid offence.
Driving while under the influence of any illegal drug in addition to any amount of THC in your blood will also result in a hybrid offence.
The penalties for a hybrid offence vary significantly, from minimum fines of $1000 for a first offence (only having more than 5ng/ml THC) to several years of imprisonment for more serious crimes.
If you were charged with a hybrid offence, it is crucially important that you contact an experienced criminal defence lawyer. A criminal defence lawyer that specializes in drug charges and DUIs can help you avoid severe penalties and a criminal record – which are almost guaranteed if you face your charges alone.
What Are Other High Driving Penalties?
There are other penalties associated with driving high. If you injure another party in an accident while driving high, penalties increase.
High driving causing bodily harm can result in 10 years in prison.
High driving causing death can result in life in prison.
The consequences of driving while high are incredibly severe – not only can you face serious criminal charges, your actions could very well result in the injury or death of you or someone else on the road.
Because of the dangers of driving high, many experts recommend that you do not drive for a minimum of 8 hours after smoking marijuana (and longer if you ate edibles).
To err on the side of caution, it’s always best to simply not drive the rest of the day after you smoke, vape, or otherwise consume cannabis.
If you do need to get somewhere, get a taxi or rideshare, walk, or call a friend or family member. The risks to you and others on the road are simply not worth it.
But if you have already found yourself with a drug charge for driving high, you shouldn’t face the consequences alone.
Contact Dhanu Dhaliwal Law Group today to get started on your case. We’ll work with you to find the best solution to your charges and we will do everything we can to help you keep your license.
Call one of our offices in Surrey or Abbotsford, or contact us through the form on our website today. And most importantly, drive safe.