Nearly two thirds of Canadians are worried roads will become more dangerous once marijuana is legal, according to newly released information from the Canadian Automobile Association (CAA).
“We’ve done extensive research and 67 per cent of Canadians are very concerned, already, even before the legislation has been introduced about the safety of people driving while being impaired by marijuana,” said Gary Howard, president of communications for CAA Atlantic.
Despite that, 26 per cent of people surveyed by CAA feel they drive okay or even better when impaired by the drug. It’s a statistic Howard said points to the need for more education on the topic.
“From our point of view, education should start today because it will literally be on the streets in a year and a half,” he said.
“So what are we doing to ensure that the public understands the impacts of smoking marijuana and impairment while operating a motor vehicle. We need to get to that right away.”
Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation releases report
The Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, a body set up by the federal government in June to study marijuana legalization in Canada, released a set of recommendations on Tuesday on how marijuana should be produced, sold and regulated in the country.
Among its recommendations, the task force suggests setting a limit on the amount of THC you can have in you and still be allowed to drive. But the task force doesn’t know what that limit should be.
WATCH: The Task Force on Cannabis Legalization and Regulation recommends investing in research, while emphasizing in public education campaigns that no amount of marijuana is safe to consume before driving.
CAA calling for more education, investment from government
CAA is calling on the federal government to move immediately to implement several of the task force recommendations on marijuana-impaired driving, including those dealing with public education and investments to get law enforcement ready.
“It’s clear from the report that work needs to start immediately in these areas, and that the actual legalization should not be rushed,” Howard said. “It’s important for the safety of all drivers that we do as much as we can in advance of actual legalization, including proper funding.”
A study commissioned by the the Traffic Injury Research Foundation, which was funded by CAA, found that it could take 18 to 24 months for government to implement a drugged driving policy.
The study also found that there are substantial costs associated with training police officers to recognize drugged driving and that public education is required well in advance of legislation.
WATCH: ‘Drugged Driving Suit’ simulates the physical impact of drug impairment
NS leads the way in Drug Recognition Experts
RCMP say they already have a number of tools they use to tackle drug impaired driving.
“We have front line officers that are trained in the use of the standardized field sobriety technique and we also have officers that are specifically trained in what’s called Drug Recognition Experts,” RCMP Const. Mark Skinner said.
The Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse recommends having six Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) for every 100,000 people. Based on population, the following statistics from the RCMP show how many DREs the eight provinces in Canada should have versus how many they actually have.
Nova Scotia is currently the only province to meet the population criteria.
- Prince Edward Island: needs 9, has 6
- New Brunswick: needs 45, has 17
- Nova Scotia: needs 56, has 67
- Newfoundland: should have 30, has 12
- Saskatchewan: needs 62, has 35
- British Columbia: needs 264, has 81
- Quebec: needs 474, has 70
- Ontario: needs 771, has 138
Police aren’t sure yet how the legalization of marijuana will impact drivers.
“Certainly impaired driving and drug-impaired driving is a concern to the police,” said Skinner. “It would be hard to speculate if it’s going to increase drug impaired driving at this point in time. There’s been other jurisdictions where there has been an increase. We certainly hope that doesn’t happen.”