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It seems a great many Canadians think it’s fine to hop behind the wheel within two hours of ingesting cannabis – as many as one in seven users who hold a driver’s licence.

From its latest quarterly survey of pot consumers, Statistics Canada also estimates that in addition to the roughly half-million stoned drivers, up to one in 20 Canadians accepted a ride from someone who had recently gotten high.

Those are disconcertingly large numbers. But the fact that we have them reflects encouraging candour on the part of marijuana users. And it points to increased potential for mature discussion around how to behave responsibly after consuming the drug, as its imminent legalization lessens reluctance to talk about it.

We are now gaining a more defined sense not just of the scale of drug-affected driving, but of who in particular is doing it (men under the age of 24, mostly). Daily or almost daily users are reportedly four times more likely to drive soon after consumption than more occasional ones. And the figures reveal regional disparities, with British Columbians reporting the lowest rate. That sort of data should be useful, as Ottawa and the provinces continue to grapple with how to deter users from driving.

To date, most of the focus has been on how to enforce new laws carrying harsh penalties for drivers found to have cannabis in their bloodstreams, especially given delays in rolling out roadside testing equipment. While attempts at zero tolerance are laudable, multiple questions remain unresolved, especially around how to avoid arbitrariness.

But as important, and increasingly realistic as cannabis use otherwise gains legal and likely social acceptance, is the sort of stigmatization that has played a big role in reducing driving under the influence of alcohol.

Public awareness campaigns about the recklessness of driving while high may be more credible coming from governments that don’t treat mere consumption of marijuana by adults as criminal. Targeting that message may be easier if those governments, and advocacy groups, know better who is most at risk. And the more Canadians are willing to discuss recreational drug use, the more they may be able to discourage one another from needlessly putting lives in danger.

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