One of the major critiques of plans to legalize marijuana is related to people driving under the influence of weed, and the difficulties in policing such behavior. But in Canada, the largest country to regulate marijuana yet — and a nation with some of the highest rates of drunk driving in the world — law enforcement agencies are reporting that there has been no noticeable spike in such arrests since federal legalization.
A survey by the Canadian Press of the country’s police forces echoed early post-legalization reports, finding that most had seen no rise in DUI cannabis arrests. “But most police departments are still really focusing on the drugs that we know that are killing people, the opiates and methamphetamines that are causing major concerns across the country,” said Chief Constable Mike Serr, co-chairperson of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police’s drug advisory committee.
Many departments queried via the survey said they had actually recommended less charges for driving while stoned, although Alberta police did report 58 such charges since federal legalization, in comparison to 32 charges levied during the same six months last year.
As they did in November, many agencies are reporting the prioritization of driver education around proper storage of cannabis while driving, emphasizing that it should be kept safely in the trunk as one would with alcohol containers.
The news comes at the same time as the Canadian government’s announcement that it may approve a roadside THC saliva testing system for use by roadside officers. The Abbot SoToxa costs $6,000 Canadian dollars per device, but yields results in five minutes as opposed to other, considerably more delayed methods of testing for the presence of THC in a driver’s body. As is usually the case with these things, it does not test impairment in a driver. It wouldn’t be admissible as the basis for criminal charges — only for grounds to to arrest an individual. Some Canadian law enforcement officials have questioned its efficacy in cold weather.
Canada’s federal government has prioritized education about driving under the influence — public awareness campaigns started on a variety of media platforms as far back as 2017, and a $62.5 million five year plan was announced in July of last year to train officers in new cannabis legislation. Some law firms specializing in impaired driving defense have even distributed air fresheners printed with their contact info to publicize the new federal driving laws related to marijuana.
Across the U.S. and Canada, governments have been mulling over options for policing driving while stoned. In Massachusetts, Governor Charlie Baker has introduced a bill based on a report from a special committee that recommended police be able to demand biological testing from drivers they suspect to be under the influence after a 12-step coordination and reflex test — and that drivers should have their license revoked for six months if they refuse the evaluation.
That plan has its own challenges to face, however. “Marijuana can stay in your system for over three days,” Boston College professor and drug expert Richard Gowan told The Huntington News. “So you could easily say as an excuse, ‘Well, I smoked this joint three days ago, I’m not under the influence anymore.’ Legally, this is going to be incredibly difficult.”