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One in seven cannabis users admits they consumed drug then drove, Statscan says

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 20, 2018 a man smokes marijuana during the annual 4/20 rally on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario. - Most Canadians say they probably won't try cannabis and if they already use it won't use more when the mood-altering drug, according to a survey published on August 9, 2018. Canada is set to become the first G7 nation to legalize the recreational use of cannabis on October 17.In anticipation, the government statistical agency has been collecting data on pot trends to help policymakers better understand the social and economic impact. (Photo by Lars Hagberg / AFP)LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images

LARS HAGBERG/AFP/Getty Images

Part of cannabis laws and regulations

About one in seven cannabis users said they had recently got behind the wheel after consuming the drug, according to a survey by Statistics Canada that reveals lax attitudes toward drug-impaired driving as the country prepares for legalization.

Statistics Canada’s National Cannabis Survey results from the first half of this year, released on Thursday, show 17.6 per cent of boys and men and 9.5 per cent of girls and women report driving within two hours of using marijuana. Both rates are higher than those found driving soon after drinking in surveys done by other organizations of people who report driving soon after drinking. Five per cent told Statscan they had accepted a ride from a driver who had consumed the drug in the previous two hours.

The results were released two months before recreational cannabis is legalized across Canada and amid concerns roads will become more dangerous and questions over reliable ways for police to detect whether drivers are stoned.

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Andrew Murie, chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada (MADD), called the latest data concerning, noting the 14.3-per-cent rate for driving after using cannabis was more than triple that for Canadians who reported in roadside surveys that they drove after consuming alcohol in the preceding two hours.

“There is a high number of people who don’t think twice about driving under the influence of cannabis,” Mr. Murie said.

However, he noted the federal government recently announced it intends to approve a German-made device that tests saliva samples, which could happen as early as this month after an independent committee recommended the machine – already approved for use in Germany and Britain. Ottawa has not indicated when such screening devices will be available.

Without screening devices, police say they will have to rely on officers trained to recognize the symptoms of those on drugs.

Mike Serr, deputy police Chief in Abbotsford, B.C., and chair of the drug advisory committee of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said forces “won’t be exactly where we’d like to be” in terms of training officers to detect drug-impaired driving right away. However, he said, staffing has increased dramatically over the past year.

Mr. Murie predicted drug-impaired driving will decrease once detection equipment is approved and delivered to police.

“I think, once people get the idea that police do have the tools, that they can detect drug-impaired drivers, especially cannabis, then I think, like alcohol with the breathalyzer, it’ll start to lower those rates.”

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Criminal lawyers and medical-cannabis patients have criticized the drug-impaired-driving laws created by Ottawa, noting they could unfairly penalize some 200,000 licensed medical users.

Deputy Chief Serr said part of the problem in teaching cannabis users to stay away from their cars is the lack of a standard scale for measuring the effects of the drug, as there is with alcohol.

“People have a good understanding of when it’s relatively safe to drive after consuming alcohol: The message has been clear on beer versus spirits versus wine,” he said. “But the science still is trying to catch up to ‘what is the safe limit after you consume cannabis in order to drive?'"

Both MADD and Deputy Chief Serr recommend waiting at least four hours after using cannabis before driving.

Statistics Canada surveyed 13,100 people for its research, part of an attempt to track the social and economic effects of legalization. About 12 per cent of the population reports using cannabis in the past year compared with almost 77 per cent for alcohol, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction.

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The survey results released on Thursday suggest cannabis use is highest among young people – 33 per cent of those of the ages of 15 to 25 compared with 13 per cent of those above the age of 25. Most respondents – 82 per cent – also said they probably wouldn’t increase their consumption once pot is legalized.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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