The risks of cannabis-impaired driving

The risks of cannabis-impaired driving
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Cannabis contains substances that affect the brain and body, including delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD). THC causes the intoxicating effects of cannabis. CBD is not intoxicating but can still have effects on the brain.

In Canada, cannabis became legal for adults on October 17, 2018

The risks of cannabis-impaired driving

The risks of cannabis-impaired drivingCannabis-impaired driving poses significant risks to the driver, passengers, and other road users. When individuals drive under the influence of cannabis, their ability to operate a vehicle safely can be compromised. Here are some of the risks associated with cannabis-impaired driving:

  1. Impaired cognitive and motor function: Cannabis use can impair cognitive functions such as attention, decision-making, perception, and reaction time. These impairments can affect a driver’s ability to maintain focus on the road, make quick and accurate judgments, and react appropriately to traffic situations. Motor skills necessary for safe driving, such as coordination and control, can also be negatively impacted by cannabis use.
  2. Altered perception of time and distance: Cannabis use can distort a driver’s perception of time and distance, leading to difficulty accurately judging the speed and proximity of other vehicles or objects on the road. This impairment increases the risk of misjudging gaps in traffic, making unsafe lane changes, or failing to respond appropriately to road hazards.
  3. Increased likelihood of errors and poor decision-making: Cannabis can impair decision-making abilities, leading to risky behaviors while driving. Users may take unnecessary risks, such as driving at excessive speeds, tailgating, or making reckless maneuvers, increasing the likelihood of accidents and collisions.
  4. Decreased attention and vigilance: Cannabis can result in decreased attention and vigilance, leading to distractions and reduced awareness of the driving environment. This can result in missed road signs, signals, or hazards, increasing the potential for accidents.
  5. Reduced coordination and control: Cannabis use can impair fine motor skills and coordination required for safe driving. This can lead to difficulties in controlling the vehicle, maintaining proper lane position, and executing precise maneuvers, increasing the risk of collisions.
  6. Increased likelihood of accidents and injuries: Cannabis-impaired driving has been associated with an increased risk of accidents and injuries. Studies have shown that driving under the influence of cannabis is linked to an elevated risk of motor vehicle crashes, including fatal collisions.

The risks of cannabis-impaired drivingIt is crucial to note that the specific effects of cannabis on driving can vary depending on factors such as the potency of the cannabis, individual tolerance, and the presence of other substances in the system. Additionally, combining cannabis with alcohol or other drugs can further amplify the risks and impairments associated with impaired driving.

If cannabis use is necessary, individuals should seek alternative transportation methods such as designated drivers, public transportation, or rideshare services to ensure the safety of themselves and others on the road.

The risks of cannabis-impaired drivingHow enforcement officers can detect cannabis-impaired driving?

Enforcement officers use various methods to detect cannabis-impaired driving. These methods are aimed at assessing impairment and determining whether an individual is unfit to operate a vehicle. Here are some of the techniques and tools employed by enforcement officers:

  1. Observational assessment: Officers are trained to observe drivers for signs of impairment during routine traffic stops or checkpoints. They look for physical and behavioral cues that may indicate impairment, such as bloodshot eyes, slowed reaction time, impaired coordination, or unusual behavior.
  2. Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs): SFSTs are a set of standardized tests used to assess impairment, including those related to cannabis use. These tests typically include tasks such as the walk-and-turn test, one-leg stand, and horizontal gaze nystagmus (eye movement) test. Officers evaluate a driver’s performance on these tests to determine impairment.
  3. Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) Evaluation: DREs are law enforcement officers specially trained to detect drug impairment, including cannabis. DREs conduct a comprehensive evaluation that includes observations, interviews, and physical examinations to assess impairment and identify the drug(s) causing it. They may also check for signs such as dilated pupils, abnormal eye movements, or other physical indicators of drug use.
  4. Oral Fluid Testing: Some jurisdictions use roadside oral fluid testing devices to detect the presence of drugs, including cannabis, in a driver’s system. These devices analyze a sample of saliva to detect the presence of THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis. Positive results from the initial screening may lead to further testing or arrest.
  5. Blood Testing: Blood tests are considered more accurate for measuring the concentration of THC or its metabolites in the body. If impairment is suspected, an officer may request a blood test to determine the presence and level of drugs in the driver’s system. Blood tests are usually conducted at a medical facility.

These methods are aimed at discouraging people from driving while impaired by cannabis or any other substance to ensure the safety of themselves and others on the road.

The risks of cannabis-impaired drivingHow long cannabis effects last

The duration of cannabis effects can vary depending on several factors, including the method of consumption, the potency of the cannabis product, the individual’s tolerance, and their metabolism. Here are some general guidelines regarding the duration of cannabis effects:

  1. Inhalation (smoking or vaping): When cannabis is smoked or vaporized, the effects are usually felt within minutes, with peak effects occurring within 10 to 30 minutes. The duration of these effects typically lasts for 1 to 3 hours, but it can vary based on the potency of the strain and the individual’s tolerance.
  2. Edibles: Edibles can take longer to take effect compared to inhalation methods. It can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours for the effects to be felt, as the cannabis needs to be digested and processed by the body. The duration of the effects from edibles is generally longer, ranging from 4 to 6 hours or even longer in some cases.
  3. Sublingual (under the tongue) administration: Sublingual cannabis products, such as tinctures or sprays, are absorbed directly into the bloodstream through the tissues under the tongue. The effects can be felt relatively quickly, typically within 15 to 30 minutes, and can last for 2 to 4 hours.
  4. Topicals: Cannabis-infused topicals, such as creams or lotions, are primarily used for localized relief and do not typically produce psychoactive effects. The effects of topicals are limited to the area of application and do not have the same systemic effects as other methods of consumption.

The duration of cannabis effects can vary among individuals. Factors such as frequency of use, individual metabolism, body weight, and sensitivity to cannabis can influence how long the effects are felt. Additionally, higher doses or products with higher THC concentrations can result in more prolonged or intensified effects up to 24-36 hours.

The risks of cannabis-impaired drivingWhat happened if you are charged with cannabis-impaired driving in Canada?

If an individual is charged with cannabis-impaired driving in Canada, the consequences can vary depending on the specific circumstances, provincial laws, and previous offenses. Here is a general overview of the potential consequences:

  1. Immediate driver’s license suspension on the spot and the vehicle impoundment: When a driver is suspected of impaired driving, they may be subject to immediate consequences, such as having their driver’s license suspended on the spot and their vehicle impounded. The duration of the license suspension and vehicle impoundment can vary depending on some factors.
  2. Criminal charges: Impaired driving offenses related to cannabis can lead to criminal charges under the Criminal Code of Canada. The specific charges may include impaired driving, driving with a blood concentration of THC over the legal limit, or a combination of both. If convicted, these charges can result in a criminal record, fines, and potentially a term of imprisonment.
  3. Legal process and penalties: If charged, the driver will go through the legal process, which typically involves attending court appearances and potentially facing trial. The penalties for impaired driving offenses can vary depending on factors such as the blood concentration of THC, previous offenses, and the jurisdiction’s laws. Penalties may include fines, license suspensions, mandatory alcohol and drug education programs, probation, or imprisonment.
  4. Administrative penalties: In addition to criminal charges, provinces and territories in Canada have administrative penalties for impaired driving offenses. These penalties can include additional driver’s license suspensions, mandatory education or treatment programs, and vehicle impoundment.
  5. Impact on driving record and insurance: Impaired driving convictions, including those related to cannabis, can result in significant consequences for the driving record and insurance. A conviction may lead to increased insurance premiums, the requirement to obtain high-risk insurance, or even denial of coverage by some insurance companies.

The risks of cannabis-impaired driving AllOntarioIf charged with cannabis-impaired driving, it is advisable to seek legal counsel from a qualified lawyer experienced in impaired driving cases. They can provide guidance on the specific legal processes, potential defenses, and the best course of action based on the individual’s circumstances.

By Carlos Perdomo

Licensed Paralegal

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