By: Harpreet Sandhu
As the laws for marijuana consumption continue to cross over to the right-wing, the line of legal and illegal consumption is becoming blurred. We all know driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal, however, the rules of drugged driving in BC with marijuana are not as black and white. This article will briefly outline the laws and police powers regarding operating a motor vehicle under the influence of marijuana.
Firstly, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs are subject to the same penalties. However, driving under the influence of marijuana is not as easy to define. Unlike alcohol, which can be easily measured by a breathalyzer, people metabolize THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the active ingredient in marijuana) at different rates, therefore impairment can vary widely from person to person making it hard to determine if a person is impaired. Due to the inability to objectively measure what “too high” to drive is, the justice system relies on the subjective judgment of police experts who determine whether someone is drug-impaired driving.
Drug-impaired driving refers to the operation of a motor vehicle while one’s ability is adversely affected by a drug. If a substance has impaired your ability to operate a motor vehicle it is illegal for you to be driving, even if that substance is prescribed or legally acquired. Under the Criminal Code S. 253(1)(a), “everyone commits an offence who operates a motor vehicle or … has the care or control of a motor vehicle… whether it is in motion or not, while the person’s ability to operate the vehicle … is impaired by alcohol or a drug.”
For a First offence, impaired drivers face a minimum fine of $1,000, a mandatory driving prohibition of 12 months and a possible maximum jail sentence of 18 months. A second offence leads to a mandatory minimum of 30 day jail sentence and a two-year driving prohibition. For third and subsequent offences, the penalty is imprisonment for a minimum of 120 days plus a three-year driving prohibition. Impaired drivers who cause an accident face a maximum 10-year period of incarceration in the case of causing bodily harm, and a life sentence in the case of causing death.
If an officer suspects drug impairment, the driver may be subject to a drug recognition evaluation by a specialized Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). Under s. 254(3.1) of the Criminal Code, an officer has the right to require a person to submit to an evaluation by a DRE to determine whether the person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired by a drug or a combination of alcohol and a drug. Section 254(3.1) reads as follows:
- (3.1) If a peace officer has reasonable grounds to believe that a person is committing, or at any time within the preceding three hours has committed, an offence under paragraph 253(1)(a) as a result of the consumption of a drug or of a combination of alcohol and a drug, the peace officer may, by demand made as soon as practicable, require the person to submit, as soon as practicable, to an evaluation conducted by an evaluating officer to determine whether the person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle, a vessel, an aircraft or railway equipment is impaired by a drug or by a combination of alcohol and a drug, and to accompany the peace officer for that purpose.
With the progression of marijuana laws, the drug-impaired driving rules will remain fluid as research advances. In the future, however, we can expect clearly defined laws as well as new testing devices.