Edmonton sees spike in drug-impaired drivers

Aug 1, 2019

According to a recently released report by the Edmonton Police Commission, there has been a significant increase in the number of people arrested for driving while drug impaired, including under the influence of cannabis, between the period of October 2018 (when recreational use of cannabis was legalized) and April 2019. During these six months, the Edmonton Police Service reported 53 drug-impaired driving arrests, 19 of which were suspected to be cannabis-related, compared to 3 drug-impaired driving arrests during the previous year.

The statistics compiled in the report were presented before the Community and Public Services Committee to discuss the impact and costs of cannabis legalization. “As the supply increases, these numbers will rise,” reads the report. The report also states that the “processing time” of a cannabis-impaired driver requires a minimum of six hours, and is longer compared to the processing of a driver impaired by alcohol. This longer processing time for drug-impairment assessment is “due to the completion of a specialized field sobriety test followed by testing by a drug recognition expert and a blood sample.” Further, the report outlines the average cost for police time is listed as $89.48 per hour, making the average cost of dealing with a cannabis-impaired driver $536.88.

However, the report also indicated that the impact of cannabis legalization has been “lower than expected” on Edmonton, after requesting millions in additional funding to deal with legalization. “With the exception of impaired driving, cannabis’ overall impact to the community has been lower than expected,” the report states, also noting an “increasing concern” regarding meth use in Edmonton.

According to Edmonton Councillor Scott McKeen, the spike in drug-impaired arrests in Edmonton is related to increased police activity looking for drug-impaired drivers.

“They were not as focused on that before,” McKeen said in an interview with The Star. “With the legalization of cannabis, they are duty-bound to now be focused on that as well as alcohol-impaired drivers. That’s why the stats are going up.” He has also expressed that he believes that the number of cannabis users has not drastically changed following legalization: “For people who were cannabis users, it wasn’t hard to get.”

Edmonton Police Chief Dale McFee was in agreement with McKeen’s assessment stating he believes the increase in impaired-driving arrests is a result of more vigilance by police with cannabis legalization. He said, “I always said my concern with marijuana legalization was the impaired driving. That was always our main concern. We are certainly tracking it better. That’s part of it.”

Moreover, McFee said Edmonton police will not be asking for additional funding based on the findings of the report: “We are going to hold off in relation to that right now… You don’t want to jump to things. Supply hasn’t reached the increase, edibles have not come up and we have bigger issues, and that’s meth.”

The next cannabis report by the Edmonton Police Commission is scheduled to be released this fall.