Cannabis and driving: what you need to know

Cannabis and driving: what you need to know

Discover all the cons of using cannabis and choosing to get behind the wheel.

Driving after smoking marijuana is just as inexcusable as drinking and driving.

You could be charged with impaired driving and face penalties under the (federal) Criminal Code AND the (provincial) Highway Safety Code.

At the federal level

The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentration in the blood is tested to check if you are driving impaired. THC levels are measured in nanograms per millilitre of blood (ng/ml).

You are committing an offense if you drive with a blood drug concentration of between 2 ng/ml and 5 ng/ml. The charge becomes even more serious if you have a blood drug concentration of more than 5 ng/ml. A prison sentence is then in the cards.

Mixing cannabis with alcohol

When a driver is suspected of mixing weed and booze, their blood concentration must be tested and found to be under the following prohibited levels:

  • 50 mg or more of alcohol per 100 ml of blood
  • 2.5 ng or higher of THC per ml of blood

It is still possible to be criminally charged with drug-impaired driving even without taking a blood test.

At the provincial level

While the federal government sets a limit of 5 ng/ml, in Quebec, penalties are applied as soon as a driver is found to be driving impaired by cannabis.

It is illegal to operate a motor vehicle while impaired by any drug or prescription medication. This rule also applies to people who have been authorized to possess medical cannabis.

Not only it is illegal to drive impaired, the Highway Safety Code also prohibits you from getting behind the wheel at all.

So keep in mind that police could come knocking if you decide to take a nap in the back seat or access your vehicle for snow removal. They will assess whether it is possible for you to drive or if you intended to drive.

Drug screening tests

Police can ask you to take a Standardized Field Sobriety Test to identify whether you have used marijuana. By administering this simple test, they are able to detect if you have impaired faculties.

Depending on the results, you could be arrested and given a one-way ride in the back of a squad car to the police station. A drug recognition expert could conduct further tests to determine your level of intoxication.

You will be required to provide a blood or urine sample if you are identified as drug impaired.

Charges will be laid under the Criminal Code once various test results are in.

What about refusing to take a roadside test?

Don’t even think about it! Refusal to comply is a criminal offense.

If you are guilty of impaired driving

Driving under the influence of marijuana has immediate legal consequences, even before a judge finds you guilty.

Here are the penalties for a first offense.

Provincial penalties

Federal penalties

Upon arrest

  • Immediate licence suspension: 24 hours or 90 days (depending on the situation)
  • Immediate vehicle seizure: 30 days (depending on the situation)

After being found guilty

  • Criminal record
  • Minimum fine of $1,000
  • Prohibited from driving for at least 1 year
  • Possible prison sentence (depending on the court decision)

You will face stiffer penalties and have to cough up more cash after a repeat offense.

When it comes to your auto insurance

An insurer will not inquire about cannabis use when you request an auto insurance quote. They will usually not ask you any questions at all on this issue.

However, it can have an immediate impact on your auto insurance if you are charged with driving under the influence of marijuana. You can potentially expect to pay higher premiums and your insurance coverage could also be reviewed.

Every case is unique and you should discuss it with your insurance company.

And if you file a claim…

Your insurer could provide compensation even if your cannabis use resulted in damage to your vehicle.

Talk with your insurer to check your coverage.

Article written in collaboration with the Société de l’assurance automobile du Québec