The legalization of marijuana, and what it means for marijuana impaired driving, has been a hot topic of late. New laws and guidance have been proposed, although many issues are still being resolved by both the federal and provincial governments.

If you are looking for a Vancouver criminal lawyer to help you fight a marijuana impaired driving charge, please contact us at Mickelson & Whysall.


Penalties for marijuana impaired driving

Here is what we do know about marijuana impaired driving.

Firstly, marijuana impaired driving has been, and will continue to be, illegal in Canada.

For some time now, police officers in British Columbia have had the power to issue an administrative penalty to a driver, if there are reasonable grounds to believe that he/she is affected by drugs. The penalty is a 24-hour suspension handed to the driver at the roadside, rather than in the police station (otherwise it is invalid).

Alternatively, the police can charge a driver under the criminal code for driving while impaired by drugs. This carries a more severe sentence, and can result in up to five years in prison, even for a first offence.


Will there be new penalties?

With the legalization of cannabis, the government of British Columbia has decided to toughen provincial regulations regarding marijuana impaired driving. As a result, two news laws have been proposed:

  1. A 90-day Administrative Driving Prohibition (ADP) can be issued to drug impaired drivers
  2. There will be a zero-tolerance approach towards learner and novice drivers, meaning they cannot have any THC present in their blood when driving


Legal limits for marijuana impaired driving

THC is the main psychoactive substance in cannabis. The federal government has said that any fully qualified driver with over 2 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood will be deemed over the legal limit. The matter of whether a driver will be charged with a summary offence or an indictable offence depends on the amount of THC in their system, and whether or not alcohol has also been consumed.

As mentioned above, learner and novice drivers cannot have any THC in their blood system when driving.


Tests for marijuana impaired driving

Currently if you are stopped by the police while driving, you should only be tested for drugs/alcohol if there is a reasonable suspicion that you are driving impaired, or you have driven impaired during the last three hours. If so, you may be breathalyzed and asked to conduct a Standard Field Sobriety Test.

1. Standard Field Sobriety Test

During the Standard Field Sobriety Test you will be asked to perform certain tasks, such as stand on one leg and walk in a straight line. If this provides reasonable grounds for the police to believe that you were driving while impaired by drugs, you may be given a 24-hour prohibition. Or you may be taken to the police station for a Drug Recognition Evaluation.

2. Drug Recognition Evaluation

A Drug Recognition Evaluation is a series of 12 physical tests and interviews carried out by a trained expert. If the evaluator determines that you are impaired by a particular drug, and this is confirmed by a positive urine or blood sample, you will be charged with drug impaired driving.


Will there be new tests for marijuana impaired driving?

However, the legalization of marijuana has prompted calls for better roadside drug screening equipment. The federal government has now approved a roadside marijuana screening device called the Dräger DrugTest® 5000, which tests a driver’s saliva for THC.

Each police force can make up their own mind as to whether or not they wish to use the device. Despite federal approval, some police forces in British Columbia have decided against it – including the Vancouver Police Department.

So for now at least, Standard Field Sobriety Tests and Drug Recognition Evaluations will be the main method of testing for Vancouver impaired driving. But other police forces across the province may choose to adopt the saliva screening device.

Vancouver impaired driving lawyer

This is just a brief overview of the laws surrounding marijuana impaired driving. The legal landscape is changing and there remain many unknowns. It is also likely that the new laws will be challenged, as many of them are inherently flawed. For instance, THC can remain in your bloodstream for up to 30 days. This means that a positive blood or urine sample does not necessarily mean that a driver was impaired – he/she may have consumed cannabis days before getting behind the wheel of a car.

All of these things make the process of disputing a marijuana impaired driving charge even more complex. If you are facing such a charge, it is more important than ever to have a Vancouver impaired driving lawyer on your side.


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