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Fewer Ontarians driving while high after cannabis legalization, CAA survey finds

By: Lisa Coxon on October 9, 2019

Contrary to fears that cannabis legalization would result in an increase of cannabis-impaired driving, new data from CAA South Central Ontario shows that the increased messaging and warnings about driving while high may be working. Fewer people are driving after using cannabis.

CAA’s survey results revealed that 1.2 million Ontario drivers have driven while high at some point — a number that’s actually decreased since July 2018, when CAA last polled Canadians on the topic and found that 1.9 million Canadians admitted to driving while high.

But as we near the one-year anniversary of the legalization of cannabis in Canada next week on Oct. 17th, the data shows that there are still a concerning number of people who get behind the wheel soon after using cannabis. 

According to the June survey of 1,510 Ontario drivers between the ages of 19 and 70, 72% of respondents who admitted to having driven while high said they’ve gotten behind the wheel within three hours or less of consuming cannabis, with 27% feeling very or somewhat high when they did.

And with the looming legalization of edibles and tinctures (which includes products such as THC oil and vape pens), CAA says many Canadians still don’t understand the dangers behind cannabis-impaired driving.

Cannabis edibles and tinctures will become legal on Oct. 17th, but the actual products won’t be available until about two months after that, sometime in mid-December.

“We know that driving under the influence of cannabis affects your ability to drive safely and increases your risk of getting into a crash,” Teresa Di Felice, assistant vice-president of government and community relations at CAA, said in a news release.

“The research has shown us that young Canadians are more at risk of a vehicle crash even five hours after inhaling cannabis.”

This year’s survey also revealed that more than 50% of Ontario drivers who use cannabis are what’s referred to as “poly-users” meaning they typically consume cannabis with another substance. Alcohol and cannabis are the most common pairing.

Once edibles become legal, things could get even murkier. According to CAA’s survey, 12% of non-cannabis users said that they are very or somewhat likely to try edibles once they’re legalized. Users don’t typically feel high right away with edibles, however. It can take hours for the THC to be digested by the body before users start to feel the effects.

“It is crucial to continue to explore and understand what impact the legalization of edibles may have on Ontario's roads,” said Di Felice. “If Ontarians choose to consume edibles, they should be aware of its delayed psychoactive effects and the impact on their ability to drive.”