One-third of recent cannabis users have driven while high

According to the recently published results of a survey conducted in January 2022 by EKOS for Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada, 33% of Canadians who report having used cannabis within the previous year have also reported having engaged in cannabis-impaired driving. Moreover, among Canadians who have reported using cannabis at some point in their lives, about 26% have reported driving after consuming it.

A total of 2,193 responses were collected using the survey from participants who were randomly recruited mostly through a self-administered online questionnaire, with 10% of participants contacted by cell phone.

When participants who reported cannabis-impaired driving were asked to explain their behaviour, approximately 10% of respondents said they “didn’t know better at the time” or were uneducated about the risks. In addition, 39% of participants said they didn’t feel impaired and another 23% stated they thought they could drive safely. Nearly 30% of respondents said they had travelled in a vehicle when they knew the driver was high on cannabis.

“Unfortunately, there’s this persistent myth that if you drive under the influence of cannabis, you’re … a better driver than when you’re sober,” said Eric Dumschat, MADD Canada’s legal director, in his interview with CBC News. “And that’s one of the things that I know we at MADD Canada especially are having some difficulty dislodging, is this myth that people think that they’re safe drivers.”

In 2017, Public Safety Canada developed a “Don’t Drive High” campaign to increase awareness of the associated dangers, which included paid advertising. The “Don’t Drive High” campaign was considered a success by the government due to its reach on social networking sites including Facebook, as well as on television and in other media.

A spokesperson for Public Safety Canada highlighted survey results that suggest increased awareness of the effect of cannabis on drivers in a statement issued to CBC News, where 86% of survey respondents (including respondents who don’t use cannabis) agreed that the drug impairs driving ability. While this figure has not changed since 2020, it represents an increase from 81% recorded in 2017.

“The results from the public opinion research referenced show an increasing number of respondents agreeing that cannabis use impairs driving abilities,” the Public Safety statement reads. “This is further backed up by results from the Canadian Cannabis Survey.”

However, Dumschat pointed out that efforts to raise awareness can only go so far and that deterrence is also important. “So one of the things [governments] need to continue doing, and it’s something I know that they are, is continuing to train police officers in the use of the standardized field sobriety tests,” he said.

Police must employ “drug recognition evaluation and … oral fluid screening technology,” Dumschat added, “so that people really understand that if you are driving while under the influence of a drug, the police have the capability to detect you and catch you.”

Finally, Dumschat added that in his opinion, while cannabis-impaired driving is dangerous, it’s not as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol.

During his interview with CBC News, University of Ottawa drug policy professor Dr. Eugene Oscapella said he’d like to see the government focus less on cannabis and its effects on driving and more on other driving behaviours that can be harmful, including driving after taking certain prescription drugs, or driving despite a lack of sleep.

 

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