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Drug Impaired Driving

As of October 17, 2018 cannabis is legal in Canada. This means that a set of laws will come into effect nationally controlling the production, distribution, sale, and possession of cannabis. This law is said to be intended to protect public health and safety by allowing adults (persons 18 years or older) access to cannabis, and supposedly to keep cannabis “out of the hands of youth,” and eliminate unauthorized producers and distributors.

Other laws have been affected particularly those governing impaired driving. Alcohol-impaired driving laws are highly technical, but known by licensed Canadian drivers, although it must be said that alcohol-impaired driving continues to be a significant cause of death and injury on our roads.

Bill C-46

Less well publicized is the fact that drug impaired driving has also never been ‘legal’ in Canada. There will now be a focus on drug-impaired driving. This is because, on April 13, 2017, the Government of Canada introduced Bill C-46, a comprehensive reform of the Criminal Code described by the Canadian Department of Justice as “a modern, simplified, and more coherent system of reforms to better deter and detect drug and alcohol-impaired driving.”  Bill C-46 passed Parliament on June 20, 2018, and received Royal Assent on June 21, 2018.  The provinces and territories have had to adjust their related laws accordingly.

The new rules have created new offences for having a defined prohibited concentration of drugs in the blood within two hours of driving.  The prohibited concentration varies by drug type. It is important to note that drivers who have medical authorization for cannabis use are not exempted from these rules.

Types of offences 

The least serious offence is for THC—the primary intoxicant in cannabis and hashish— at 2 nanograms (ng) but less than 5 ng per millilitre (ml) of blood, for which the maximum fine is $1,000. The next, a more serious category called a hybrid offence—which means the prosecution can proceed by summary conviction process or by indictment—applies where there is:

  • For THC, 5 ng or more per ml of blood.
  • For LSD, psilocybin, psilocin, ketamine, PCP, cocaine, methamphetamine, and/or 6-mam, any detectable level.
  • For GHB—gamma hydroxybutyrate, a colourless and odourless drug used for ‘recreational’ purposes and for ‘date rape’—5 milligrams (mg)/L. (‘Any detectable level’ is inappropriate for this drug because traceable amounts are produced naturally in the human body.)
  • For THC and alcohol combined: 2.5 ng or more of THC per ml of blood plus 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml blood.

For this category the mandatory minimum is a $1,000 fine on first conviction; 30 days imprisonment on second; and 120 days imprisonment on the third and any subsequent convictions.

The new rules also set maximum penalties for drug-impaired driving:

  • That does not cause bodily harm or death—on summary conviction: 18 months imprisonment; by indictment, 5 years imprisonment.
  • That causes bodily harm—by indictment, 10 years imprisonment.
  • That causes death—life imprisonment.

More information is available on the Canadian Department of Justice website.

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