Drug-Impaired Driving Changes in Anticipation of Legalization


With the legalization of cannabis for recreational use comes changes to drug-impaired driving laws and detection methods. Understanding the new rules and the implications of drug-impaired driving is critical for drivers and those who share the roads with them.

As the legalization of cannabis for recreational use approaches, questions concerning drug-impaired driving have become prevalent. Alberta's impaired driving laws have been updated in anticipation of legalization and now, the Liberal government has announced that it will be providing additional measures to protect the public and discourage cannabis users from getting behind the wheel while impaired.

New Measures To Identify Drug-Impaired Drivers
In late August 2018, Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould authorized the use of a roadside test administered to detect the presence of drugs. The tool, called the Drager DrugTest 5000, screens a person's saliva to test for THC which is the principle psychoactive agent in cannabis, as well as methamphetamine, cocaine, and other drugs.

This announcement comes on the heels of recent updates to Alberta's impaired driving laws which came into effect in April of 2018. Under the old legislation, police officers were authorized to ticket drivers with a blood alcohol content (BAC) registering higher than 0.08 and now, they can also issue 90-day licence suspensions followed by a yearlong ignition interlock program.

Updates To Earlier Laws
Public response to earlier laws which allowed for an indefinite licence suspension were strong, with concerns about potentially innocent individuals being forced to undergo lengthy legal processes to get their licenses back. Some worried that rather than wait for their case to conclude, individuals would decide to plead guilty in order to accelerate the process. As a result, the Court of Appeal of Alberta ruled the law unconstitutional in May of 2017.

In addition to the roadside license suspension, the updated laws reflect a zero tolerance program which applies to Albertans who are a part of the two year Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) program. Under this program, a new driver who has any amount of cannabis, alcohol, or illegal drug in their bloodstream will be subject to swift sanctions including the possibility of immediate license suspension as well as vehicle seizure and participation in an interlock program.

A $161 Million Dollar Initiative
The saliva screening equipment is only one part of a $161 million dollar initiative put forward by the federal government to help fund police training and acquire drug-testing equipment within the next 5 years. The Canadian Associate of Chiefs of Police has also set a goal of training 2,000 officers to identify drug-impaired drivers by the time legalization comes into effect in October.

While preparation for legalization is well under way, questions remain as to how the country, and province, will manage the accompanying changes and challenges during this transitional period.