Impaired driving incidents in N.S. on the rise since cannabis legalization: RCMP

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Nova Scotia RCMP report there has been an increase in intoxicated driving events since federal cannabis legalization came into force in October 2018.

There are currently approximately five to 10 drug-driving arrests monthly across the Atlantic province, noted RCMP provincial drug recognition expert, Constable Chad Morrison. The numbers constitute “maybe a 30 to 40 per cent increase in terms of the numbers of arrests and the number of drug evaluations that we’ve been conducting,” Morrison told CBC News.

But experts are unsure whether the increase is a direct result of cannabis legalization or other factors.

“It’s hard to say if that’s because there’s more of that taking place, you know, in terms of the drug use and the impaired driving, or that it’s that our officers are a little more engaged in that form of enforcement,” said Morrison.

He explained that the police service took training to the next level when the drug was legalized in a bid to help officers identify signs of impairment due to cannabis. Additionally, the RCMP equipped officers with roadside screening tests, whose accuracy has been questioned. Use of the devices may have resulted in relatively more drivers being flagged as opposed to indicating a spike in intoxicated drivers.

Morrison said that although education is likely the best deterrent, Canadians shouldn’t hesitate to call 911 if they suspect they are witnessing impaired driving. The advice applies if the impairment is the result of alcohol, cannabis or another substance.

Brandon Bartelds smokes three joints at once while attending the 4-20 annual marijuana celebration, in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday April 20, 2018. British Columbia may have unveiled its plan for regulating recreational marijuana, but the enforcement and testing for drug-impaired driving remains hazy. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck ORG XMIT: VCRD104

“So impairment is impairment; the substance that’s causing that impairment is sort of irrelevant.”

“The bottom line is that if you take something into your body and it causes impairment, you can’t be on the road because you’re a danger to yourself and others,” he explained. “So impairment is impairment; the substance that’s causing that impairment is sort of irrelevant.”

The Nova Scotia figures come on the heels of a recent study from Mclean Hospital in Massachusetts that suggested chronic cannabis use can affect driving, even if the person behind the wheel is not acutely high.

“Chronic, heavy, recreational cannabis use was associated with worse driving performance in non-intoxicated drivers, and earlier onset of use [consumption of the drug before the age of 16] was associated with greater impairment,” the study noted. “These results may be related to other factors associated with early exposure such as increased impulsivity,” the authors added.

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