Article by Maura Forrest, National Post
A new Health Canada survey shows that Canadians are hazy on the risks of driving high.
Only half of respondents who had consumed cannabis in the last year felt that marijuana use affects driving, according to the Canadian Cannabis Survey, released Tuesday, compared to 75 per cent of all respondents. Another 24 per cent said it depends, while 19 per cent said cannabis doesn’t affect driving.
Of those who had used marijuana in the last 12 months, 39 per cent said they had driven within two hours of consuming cannabis at some point in their lives. Forty per cent of those said they had done it in the previous 30 days, and 15 per cent said they had driven after using cannabis in combination with alcohol. Only two per cent reported an interaction with police related to driving under the influence.
The survey results come as Ottawa grapples with how best to crack down on impaired driving after marijuana is legalized, which the Trudeau government has promised will happen by July 2018.
“Driving while impaired by cannabis or other drugs is dangerous and illegal,” said Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale in a statement on Tuesday. “The message is simple — don’t drive high.”
Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor said the results “reinforce why we have invested in targeted public education and awareness efforts.” The federal government has announced $46 million over the next five years to be spent on education, awareness and surveillance related to cannabis use.
But Conservative justice critic Michael Cooper said the findings show the government’s public awareness campaign “has been a failure.”
“It barely got off the ground until the fall,” he said, adding that when the Liberals’ marijuana legislation was before committee this fall, several witnesses testified about “misconceptions amongst the public about the impact of marijuana use.”
Under Bill C-46, which sets out major changes to Canada’s impaired driving laws in anticipation of marijuana legalization, people found to have two nanograms of THC (the primary psychoactive in cannabis) per millilitre of blood within two hours of driving could be fined up to $1,000, while those with more than five nanograms could face up to 10 years in jail.
But critics have argued there is no clear correlation between the amount of THC in the blood and the level of impairment, which can vary widely from person to person. “What it could mean is that some individuals who really aren’t impaired are going to be caught and other people who are impaired are going to get away with drug-impaired driving,” said Cooper.