A third of recent cannabis users say they’ve driven while intoxicated: government survey

Despite public awareness campaigns and law enforcement training to deter marijuana-impaired driving, a third of Canadians who have recently used cannabis say they have driven after using it, according to a new report. government poll.

The online surveyconducted in January 2022 by EKOS for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada and recently published online, indicates that 33% of Canadians who report having used cannabis in the previous year say they have driven under the influence.

The survey indicates that among Canadians who have used cannabis at some point in their life, about 26% say they have taken to the road after using it.

The survey analyzed 2,193 responses, recruited at random mainly through a self-administered online questionnaire, of which 10% were contacted by mobile phone. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.09%.

When asked to explain their behavior, about 10 percent of respondents said they didn’t know better at the time or were uninformed of the risks. About 39% said they did not feel impaired and 23% said they felt they could drive safely.

Just under a third (30%) of respondents said they had traveled in a vehicle when they knew the driver was intoxicated.

The federal government has been warning Canadians about the risks of driving under the influence of cannabis since before most cannabis products were legalized in 2018 and cannabis edibles were legalized in 2019.

“There is no good excuse for impaired driving, and being a passenger with an impaired driver is also risky,” said a government drug impaired driving web page says.

To raise public awareness of the dangers, Public Safety Canada developed a “Don’t Drive High” campaign in 2017 that included paid advertising. The government called the campaign a success, citing its reach on social networking sites like Facebook, on television and in other media.

Cannabis myths are hard to dispel: MADD Canada

The nation’s leading impaired driving advocacy group says it’s a “myth” that cannabis use doesn’t affect driving ability, or that it makes someone a better driver.

“Unfortunately, there’s this persistent myth that if you’re driving under the influence of cannabis, you’re … a better driver than when you’re sober,” Eric Dumschat, MADD Canada’s chief legal officer, told CBC News.

“And that’s one of the things that I know that at MADD Canada, in particular, we’re having a hard time dislodging is this myth that people think they’re safe drivers.”

Although the survey results suggest that the government’s awareness campaign – in which MADD participated – has not deterred some drivers, Dumschat said governments have an obligation to discourage impaired driving through drug in view of the legalization of cannabis.

In a statement to CBC News, a spokesperson for Public Safety Canada pointed to survey results that suggest increased awareness of the effects of cannabis on drivers.

Eighty-six percent of survey respondents, including those who do not use cannabis, agreed that the drug impairs the ability to drive. This figure is the same as in 2020, but is up from the 81% recorded in 2017, when similar government-commissioned surveys were carried out.

“Results from the referenced public opinion research show that a growing number of respondents agree that cannabis use impairs driving abilities,” the public safety statement read. “This is further confirmed by the results of the Canadian Cannabis Survey.”

Dumschat said awareness efforts can only go so far and deterrence also has a role to play.

“So one of the things [governments] must continue to do, and this is something I know they are doing, continue to train police officers in the use of standardized field sobriety tests,” he said.

Police need to use “drug recognition evaluation and oral fluid screening technology,” he added, “so people really understand that if you’re driving under the influence of a drug, the police have the ability to detect and catch you.”

An Ottawa Police officer administers a field sobriety test to a driver during a traffic stop in 2018. More than 27,000 police officers across Canada had been trained to administer the test by the end of 2020, according to federal government data. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

More than 27,000 police officers across the country had received Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) training by the end of 2020, according to government data. Police departments are also buying more approved drug detection equipment; they purchased 107 such devices in 2020, up from 48 in 2018.

Police departments also rely on RCMP-trained ‘drug recognition experts’ (DREs) to assess impairment – but the government says public health restrictions related to COVID-19 have led to difficulties in detecting impairment. training of new DREs. There were 1,135 active DREs in the country in 2021 compared to 1,279 in 2020, according to government figures.

The government poll reports that only 2% of those who said they had driven while impaired did so because they thought they could evade law enforcement.

Drunk driving is even more dangerous: MADD official

Dumschat said that in his opinion, while driving while impaired by cannabis is dangerous, it is not as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.

Eugene Oscapella, who teaches drug policy at the University of Ottawa, said he would like the government to focus less on cannabis and its effects on driving and more on other driving behaviors that can be harmful, such as driving after taking certain prescription medications. , or driving despite lack of sleep.

“It’s not a good idea to drive while impaired, but … we have to be careful to situate the problem, the severity of the problem, among other factors that can make driving dangerous for others,” a- he declared.

Drug policy expert Eugene Oscapella says some people will still drive while impaired, even if they know the risks. (Radio-Canada)

He said drivers who use cannabis alone are of much less concern to him than drivers who use it in combination with alcohol or other drugs.

Oscapella said he’s not sure the government has many good options to completely eliminate the problem.

“I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know if there is an answer,” he said.

“There will be a percentage of the population – regardless of the advertising campaigns, regardless of the penalties – that will drive into situations where their faculties are impaired by alcohol or a drug.”