How will the legalization of cannabis affect Alberta’s drivers?

With the historic legalization of cannabis in Canada in October 2018, it’s important not to forget the risks of drug-impaired driving. At Registrations Are Us, we want to remind you to stay alert on the roads and keep in mind Alberta’s new laws regarding driving under the influence of cannabis.


What to expect when driving after cannabis legalization

Keep in mind that the penalties are more serious for drivers who are repeat offenders or injure others while driving impaired.Keep in mind that the penalties are more serious for drivers who are repeat offenders or injure others while driving impaired.Keep in mind that the penalties are more serious for drivers who are repeat offenders or injure others while driving impaired.Keep in mind that the penalties are more serious for drivers who are repeat offenders or injure others while driving impaired.


Driving while high: unsafe and illegal

Smoking or consuming marijuana in any form alters your spatial awareness and slows down your reaction times, which impairs your ability to drive and puts everyone around you in danger.

According to the Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse and Addiction, cannabis use doubles the risk of being involved in a collision. Drivers under the influence of cannabis tend to drive too slowly, swerve suddenly, make abrupt lane changes and fail to react in time to unexpected dangers on the road. All of these factors make them much more likely to be involved in accidents.

Changes to Alberta’s drug-impaired driving laws
Because of the legalization of cannabis, the federal and provincial governments have revised their drug-impaired driving laws to make sure Canada’s roads stay safe. In Alberta, changes have been made to the rules pertaining to all drivers with a Graduated Driver’s License (GDL), to license suspensions and to blood-drug concentration limits and criminal penalties.

• Drivers with a Graduated Driver’s Licenses
If you got your driver’s license in Edmonton or elsewhere in the province, you’re likely aware that Albertan drivers must have a Graduated Driver’s License for at least two years before they can obtain a full license. The province now has a zero tolerance policy with regard to GDL drivers found with cannabis or illegal drugs in their bloodstream. GDL drivers determined to have any amount of cannabis in their bloodstream will be subject to an immediate 30-day license suspension and seven-day vehicle seizure. They’ll also have to remain in the GDL program for two more years before they can obtain their full license.

• Drug-related license suspensions
All drivers found to be impaired due to cannabis or illegal drugs will face an immediate 90-day license suspension and a three-day vehicle seizure, followed by required participation in an ignition interlock program. This program involves having an ignition interlock device installed in your vehicle. You’ll have to breathe into the device so it can measure your blood alcohol concentration (BAC) before you can start the engine. If your BAC is too high, the ignition will “lock,” and you won’t be able to drive.

Although ignition interlock devices aren’t yet able to detect cannabis, they’re intended to deter people from all forms of impaired driving. People who habitually drive under the influence of substances like cannabis have been found to be high-risk drivers who frequently use drugs in combination with alcohol.

• New blood-drug concentration limits and criminal penalties
Alberta has updated its laws to match new federal drug laws that dictate how much tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the active ingredient in marijuana, you can have in your bloodstream while driving. Here are the new federal blood-drug concentration limits and corresponding criminal penalties:

Blood drug concentration in nanograms (ng) per millilitre (ml)

  • At least 2 ng/ml but less than 5 ng/ml THC
  • 5 ng/ml or more THC OR 2.5 ng/ml combined with 50 ng/100ml or more alcohol


Federal criminal penalty

  • Maximum $1,000 fine
  • First offence: minimum $1,000 fine
  • Second offence: 30 days imprisonment
  • Third offence: 120 days imprisonment


Keep in mind that the penalties are more serious for drivers who are repeat offenders or injure others while driving impaired.


What to expect when driving after cannabis legalization

If you’re suspected of driving while drug impaired in Alberta, a police officer will ask you to take a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST), which involves some preliminary questions, an eye exam and movement tests. If the test indicates drug impairment, you’ll be taken to a police station to be evaluated by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). If they determine that your ability to drive has been affected by drug use, you’ll be required to provide a blood or urine sample. Depending on the levels of THC or other substances in your bloodstream, you may face fines and criminal charges.

Right now, Edmonton police don’t have breathalysers or roadside screening devices for cannabis, but by the end of the year, they should be able to perform roadside saliva tests that will screen for marijuana.

Just like alcohol, recreational and medical marijuana needs to be kept out of reach of all people in moving vehicles. If you suspect someone of driving while impaired, don’t hesitate to call 911 before an accident occurs.


Take care of all your driver registration needs


Whether you need to renew your driver's license, register your vehicle or sign up for your road exam, the authorized registry agents at Registrations Are Us can help. We’re proud to provide a variety of registration services to people throughout Edmonton. For more information,contact us today.
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