Can You Drive on CBD in Canada? A Comprehensive Legal Guide
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Can You Drive on CBD in Canada?

Can You Drive on CBD in Canada

Canada legalized cannabis possession and recreational consumption through the Cannabis Act in 2018. The groundbreaking legislation made Canada one of the first industrialized countries in the world to embrace regulated cannabis access and move away from prohibitive drug-policy measures. While the Cannabis Act legalized cannabis use for adults, it does not give citizens carte-blanche to consume marijuana without potential repercussions.

In Canada, there are still enforceable boundaries surrounding cannabis consumption. One of those enforceable boundaries involves the consumption of cannabis or cannabis-related compounds while driving. There can be consequences for consuming a mind-altering but legal substance similar to those associated with driving under the influence of alcohol.

Can you legally drive in Canada while high or on CBD? At Posner Craig Stein, LLP, we want to help untangle the complexities of Canada’s new cannabis laws and how they may impact your life. Whether you are a casual consumer, a CBD enthusiast, or a patient needing medicinal marijuana, we want you to understand the implications of driving in Canada while on CBD.

Understanding the Chemistry of Cannabis 

Cannabis is a complex plant containing numerous active compounds, many of which have yet to be thoroughly studied by researchers and scientists. However, two primary compounds in cannabis give it its main medicinal and psychoactive effects: THC and CBD.

Tetrahydrocannabinol, also known as THC, is the primary psychoactive compound in cannabis. THC is the compound most responsible for producing the euphoric “high” effect people experience when consuming cannabis. Some research suggests that THC also increases appetite, has anti-inflammatory benefits, and may help relieve nausea and chronic pain.

When consumed, THC enters the bloodstream and binds with cannabinoid CB1 receptors in the central nervous system. When THC binds to these receptors, it can affect how individuals perceive pain and may trigger positive reward sensations in the brain.

CBD is another compound found in cannabis known to have therapeutic effects without delivering the psychoactive “high” that is the trademark of THC. CBD also binds to cannabinoid receptors. It is popular for its medicinal effects and may help ease anxiety, chronic pain, and insomnia. It may also be an effective anti-inflammatory.

Some research suggests that cannabis and CBD, in particular, may be beneficial in treating significant medical conditions like PTSD, cancer, nausea, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, Crohn’s disease, and epilepsy. However, the exact mechanism involved in cannabis’ therapeutic effects is still under investigation by scientists and researchers.

Can You Drive on CBD in Canada?

Drugs like cannabis and CBD can impair your ability to operate a vehicle safely. Driving while impaired is not only dangerous but also is strictly prohibited by law. According to statistics from the Government of Canada, impaired driving is the nation’s leading criminal cause of death and injury. Drivers who test positive for drugs now outpace the number of drivers who test positive for alcohol in Canada.

Driving while impaired by cannabis, CBD, or other drugs is a recipe for disaster and can lead to an accident and significant financial and criminal penalties. Bill C-46, passed in 2018, added federal laws and penalties to the Criminal Code of Canada, strengthening laws involving driving while impaired.

Can you drive on CBD in Canada? In short, no. Never attempt to operate a vehicle while on drugs or medication that can impair your mental and physical faculties. Plan accordingly. Consider alternative transportation methods if you have consumed cannabis or other potentially mind-altering drugs or substances. Many people falsely believe that because CBD doesn’t get you “high,” it is safe. Although CBD is not known for its psychoactive effects like THC is, it can still impair judgment, slow reaction time, and cause drowsiness. These effects can hurt your ability to operate a vehicle safely.

How Does CBD Impact the Body and Reaction Time 

Cannabis and CBD can impact the mind and body in numerous ways depending on the strain and concentration of the plant. CBD can help people relax, reduce anxiety, and trigger therapeutic effects. However, it can also cause nausea, upset stomach, drowsiness, lightheadedness, and low blood pressure.

Cannabis consumption alters a person’s short-term memory and concentration. It can also change a person’s perception of reality, making it dangerous to get behind the wheel of a vehicle while high. Cannabis can also slow reaction time and alter a person’s motor skills, making it much more challenging for the body to respond to shifting traffic patterns and other common roadway conditions. What makes cannabis even more dangerous to drivers is that it affects everyone differently. Users may not realize the severity of their impairment until it is too late.  

In a nutshell, cannabis consumption impacts everything from sensory perception to judgment and motor function. Cannabis alone can alter the mind and body in significant ways that prevent people from adequately responding to roadway hazards or emergencies. Mixing cannabis with alcohol or other drugs increases the negative impact on the mind and body even more. It can substantially increase a person’s chances of being involved in an accident.

What Are Canada’s Drug-Impaired Driving Laws?

Canada’s drug-impaired driving laws have changed over the years, especially after the nation legalized marijuana in 2018. New and stronger federal drug-impaired driving laws changed three primary elements to address drug-impaired driving nationwide.

First, the federal legislation created new criminal offences for being at or over the illegal blood drug concentration limits within two hours of driving a motorized vehicle.

It also allows law enforcement to use approved drug screening measures and equipment to detect the presence of drugs that can impair the mind and body. In addition to the Standardized Field Sobriety Test and Drug Recognition Evaluations, authorities can also demand an oral fluid sample. Oral fluid collection kits and readers are small devices that can detect the presence of some drugs, including THC. The devices are quick, accurate, and non-invasive. Be aware that the results of these tests can provide enough information to allow law enforcement to move forward with an investigation or demand a drug recognition evaluation or blood sample.

Finally, Canada’s new federal drug-impaired driving laws help strengthen the pre-existing legal framework that allows the investigation and prosecution of drug-impaired driving offences.

Motorists in Ontario should also remember that Ontario has a zero-tolerance policy for young drivers, novice drivers, and commercial drivers, which applies to drug-impaired driving and cannabis used prior to driving. Penalties for violating the zero-tolerance policy can include license suspensions and financial penalties. Repeat offenders of the zero-tolerance policy can face more significant fines and license suspensions. Drivers may also be required to complete educational and treatment programs.

What Is the Legal Limit for Driving While High in Canada?

The new federal Bill C-46 not only created a new criminal offence for being at or over the prohibited blood drug concentration, but it also established new prohibited THC levels. What is the legal limit for driving high? The legal limit for driving while high in Canada is as follows:

  • At or over two nanograms (ng) but under five ng per millilitre {ml) of blood constitutes a summary conviction criminal offence
  • At or over five ng of THC per ml of blood constitutes a drug-alone hybrid offence
  • At or over 2.5 ng of THC per ml of blood combined with 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood constitutes a drugs-with-alcohol hybrid offence

The potential penalties you could face for an impaired driving conviction depend on how many nanograms of THC are in your system and whether you have prior impaired driving convictions on your record.

How Police Test for Drugged Driving 

Many drivers wonder about the methods police can use to test whether a driver is impaired while behind the wheel. If you are pulled over by law enforcement, how will police test for drug driving?

Law enforcement officers have many tools for testing potentially impaired drivers. Specially trained officers are authorized to use the Standardized Field Sobriety Test to check for signs of impairment. SFSTs are typically conducted after an officer pulls a driver over and suspects drugs or alcohol may impair them. These roadside tests can include drills that test a driver’s skills, coordination, balance, and ability to operate a vehicle safely. An officer can ask that you walk and turn around or stand on one leg. During the SFST, an officer may also note your appearance, how you answer questions, your physical movements, and whether they detect the odour of drugs or alcohol. You do not have the legal right to refuse a Standardized Field Sobriety Test. Failing to comply can result in criminal charges.

Authorities can also use Drug Recognition Evaluations (DRE). These are not field tests. Instead, testing occurs at a police station. Testing is typically conducted by an officer accredited by the International Association of Chiefs of Police through the RCMP. DREs use a 12-step process to evaluate potentially impaired drivers. Generally, these tests include:

  • Breath test
  • Interview with the arresting officer
  • Preliminary examination of the driver
  • Eye examination of the driver
  • Divided attention tests
  • Clinical indicators examination (temperature, pulse, blood pressure)
  • Pupil examination in a darkroom
  • Muscle tone examination
  • Searching for potential injection sites
  • Driver interview
  • Issuing a DRE opinion based on test results
  • Toxicological samples or blood, urine, or oral fluids

As of 2018, law enforcement can also use oral fluid screener kits and readers. These devices are quick and non-invasive. They detect the presence of drugs like THC and cocaine in oral fluid. If an officer gets a positive reading from the kit, it strongly suggests an individual has recently consumed drugs and may be impaired. This test can provide law enforcement with enough evidence to propel their investigation forward and demand a Drug Recognition Evaluation or a more invasive test requiring a blood sample.

What Is the Punishment for Driving While High in Canada?

Punishments for impaired driving in Canada vary depending on the drug concentration in a person’s system. Federal laws established three new criminal offences for operating a vehicle with prohibited blood drug concentration within two hours. The lowest tier criminal offence results in a straight summary conviction offence. The two other offences are hybrid. Penalties for these offences are as follows:

At or over two nanograms but under five ng per millilitre of blood constitutes a summary conviction offence

  • Maximum fine of $1,000

At or over five ng of THC per ml of blood constitutes the drug-alone hybrid offence

  • Minimum fine of $1,000

At or over 2.5 ng of THC per ml of blood combined with 50 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of blood constitutes a drugs-with-alcohol hybrid offence

  • Minimum fine of $1,000

Repeat offenders can potentially face significant jail time. Ontario may also levy additional penalties for drunk or impaired driving, including license suspension, mandatory education and treatment programs, mandatory use of an ignition interlock device, and mandatory medical evaluations. Driving while impaired can also lead to the impoundment of your vehicle. 

In Ontario, those who fail or refuse to comply with drug or alcohol testing also face penalties, including: 

  • Financial penalties
  • Immediate roadside suspension
  • Vehicle impoundment

Individuals may also be required to pay a license reinstatement fee every time their license is suspended. Ontario also strictly penalizes impaired young or novice drivers and impaired commercial vehicle drivers.  

What If You Have a Medical Cannabis Card in Canada?

Many studies indicate that cannabis consumption does have therapeutic effects on the mind and body. People use the drug to help ease the symptoms of numerous medical conditions, especially chronic pain, cancer, epilepsy, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, and muscular sclerosis. It may also help alleviate insomnia, anxiety, and depression. Healthcare providers in Canada can authorize the use of cannabis for various medical conditions.

Canadians can use cannabis for medicinal purposes, but taking cannabis as medication does not necessarily mean you can avoid penalties if you are driving while impaired. Driving while impaired is still driving while impaired. It makes no difference to law enforcement whether you use cannabis recreationally or medicinally.

If you use medicinal cannabis, plan accordingly and secure another form of transportation. Typically, it would be best to wait at least four hours after inhaling cannabis before getting behind the wheel of a vehicle. Plan to wait much longer if your preferred form of cannabis is edibles.

How Long After a Joint Can You Legally Drive in Canada?

Many cannabis users don’t intentionally drive while impaired. Since cannabis affects the body differently depending on the person and method of consumption, it can be challenging to judge when it is safe to drive. How long after you smoke a joint can you legally drive in Canada? The answer may be different for different people.

Generally, the rule of thumb is to wait four to six hours after smoking cannabis before driving a vehicle. Smoking over 35 mg of cannabis means you should wait longer before getting behind the wheel. “Smoking” is a general term for any inhalation. Inhalation involves heating cannabis and inhaling the smoke or vapours. Once inhaled, the drug goes through the lungs and into the bloodstream. Technically, inhaling cannabis gives you an almost immediate high, the effects of which can take hours to wear off. Inhaling can include smoking cannabis joints or using vape cartridges.

Consuming edibles instead of inhaling may require you to wait longer before operating a vehicle. The active compounds in cannabis must make their way through the digestive tract and be metabolized by the liver before entering the bloodstream. It can take one to two hours to feel the effects of an edible. However, because the liver converts THC into a new and more potent compound, the effects of edibles can be more intense and last longer.

Again, the rule of thumb for edibles states that you should wait at least eight hours after consuming an edible before driving. If the edible contains more than 18 mg of THC or you consumed multiple edibles, you may need to wait longer before safely operating a car. Many outlets suggest that after eating an edible, you should sleep off the effects before you drive. 12 to 24 hours is ideal, but again, the effects of cannabis can impact people differently. If you are unsure whether you can drive after inhaling or consuming cannabis, err on the side of caution and don’t risk driving.

Ontario Distracted Driving Laws 

Statistics show that deaths from distracted driving crashes have nearly doubled since 2000 in Ontario. To combat the rise in distracted driving collisions, Ontario prohibits using hand-held communication and entertainment devices while driving. Drivers cannot use a hand-held device to make calls or text, nor can drivers use entertainment devices to play games or watch movies. Drivers violating Ontario’s distracted driving laws can face fines and license suspension. Drivers may also earn demerit points, three for a first offence and up to six for repeat offences. However, eating, drinking, smoking, and vaping are not part of the region’s distracted driving laws.

Does that mean you can smoke cigarettes and drive in Ontario? Not necessarily. You can still be cited for careless driving if you endanger others because of any distraction, including smoking or vaping. If you smoke and take your hands off the wheel, causing an accident, you could be cited for careless driving. In extreme circumstances, a driver could also face charges of dangerous driving, a criminal offence that carries stiffer penalties and potentially jail time.

Additionally, drivers and passengers cannot smoke tobacco or vape any substance in a vehicle if anyone under 15 is in the car. No one operating or inside a motor vehicle that is being driven or that might be put in motion can consume cannabis, including smoking, vaping, or eating or drinking edibles. The only exception is for passengers who require medicinal cannabis. These passengers may consume edible cannabis inside of a vehicle. However, smoking and vaping cannabis is still prohibited.

Contact an Experienced Canadian Criminal Defence Lawyer for Help 

Cannabis may be legal throughout Canada, but Ontario officials take a no-nonsense approach to dealing with individuals who drive while drug-impaired. Cannabis and its active compounds, THC and CBD, can impact reaction time and judgment, putting you and others at risk on the road. If you are caught driving impaired or causing an accident while high, you can face steep criminal and financial penalties. Do not attempt to navigate the situation without the help of an experienced and knowledgeable Ontario criminal defence team.

At Posner Craig Stein, LLP, our criminal defence lawyers have the skills and resources to help you during this challenging time. We have an extensive background in defending cases involving drug and DUI offences. We’ll work with you to build a compelling case with the best chance of delivering the most favourable outcome possible for your situation. 

Posner Craig Stein lawyers have defended DUI cases for many years and have developed considerable expertise in fighting them in court.  We have a rich and extensive knowledge of the jurisprudence and statutory framework that surrounds these cases.  In addition to defending DUI cases, we also have enormous experience defending drug cases generally.  We are intimately familiar with the federal and provincial cannabis control legislation, along with the provisions of the Controlled Drugs and Substances Act.  Quite recently, our firm’s senior partner – Richard Posner – secured an acquittal for a client who was charged with trafficking a large quantity of fentanyl.  The police officer in that case detained the defendant for a Cannabis Control Act search of his motor vehicle.   Mr. Posner established that the officer’s use of and reliance on that legislation was legally wrong.  In the result, the trial judge found that the officer violated the defendant’s rights under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and she excluded all of the evidence seized by the officer.

Our firm has over 85 years of combined legal experience and cumulatively we have worked on over 5500 cases. Have you been charged with impaired driving in Ontario? It is time to speak with a seasoned criminal defence lawyer at Posner Craig Stein, LLP. Contact our Ontario office today to discuss your case.

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