MADD Canada kicked off its annual Project Red Ribbon campaign in Halifax on Thursday, placing particular focus on the newly-legalized recreational cannabis.
This is the 31st year of the campaign, and while cannabis impaired driving is not a new issue, this is the first year that the substance is legal.
“Cannabis was included in our ceremony today because it’s legalized so it allows us to have a more open conversation with people,” said Patricia Hynes-Coates, the MADD Canada national president.
Halifax Regional Police Supt. Don MacLean says dealing with cannabis-impaired drivers is nothing new for the department, but he’s unsure if there will be a holiday bump in those who toke and drive similar to those who drive drunk.
“That remains to be seen because this is new for us,” MacLean said.
Hynes-Coates agreed that cannabis legalization carries with it many unknowns, but that conversations about the drug are now more frank and open.
“With the legalization, again, it’s allowed people to have that conversation that was a little taboo before. People were afraid to discuss it,” she said.
“Well now it allows people to have that conversation with their youth, with their children, with their peers, with their friends, with their community, so that they are aware that this does impair your system and we don’t want you on our roadways.”
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MacLean says 1,265 people were charged with impaired driving in the Halifax Regional Municipality last year, highlighting the importance of year-round enforcement. But MacLean says that HRP do step up enforcement during the holidays.
“Holidays just seem to enhance the message. Certainly this is a year-long commitment,” he said.
“The numbers of impaired drivers that were charged in the last year was significant … but certainly through the holidays it is important that we’re out there, the people know that we’re out there and that certainly that assist, I think, in both a proactive and a preventative process.”
That process was highly visible Thursday. After the opening ceremony that saw remarks from local chapter volunteer Anissa MacLeod, Mayor Mike Savage, RCMP Chief Supt. Marlene Snowman, along with Hynes-Coates and MacLean, volunteers and officers took to the tolls at the Angus L. Macdonald bridge to hand out ribbons and tell drivers about the campaign.
Hynes-Coates says that Canada’s geography creates particular challenges for MADD Canada, but that the solution in every case comes down to preparedness.
“We’re geographically spread out, so yes it does cause some challenges. But again, this is where planning ahead comes in. We ask people to plan ahead, have a designated driver,” she said.