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Drunk or high - the rules still apply 

Cannabis causes impairment, and driving while impaired is illegal. It always has been, and it remains now that cannabis is legal. Here are some common questions police receive about cannabis and other drug-impaired driving.

Can you test motorists at the roadside for drug-impaired driving?

  • Yes. The Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST) is conducted by specially trained Police officers at the roadside when the driver of a motor vehicle is suspected to have a drug in their body. The SFST consists of some preliminary questions, an eye exam, and some movement tests.
  • If the SFST indicates impairment by drug, the driver will then be arrested and taken to a police station to be evaluated by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE). At the conclusion of a DRE evaluation, if the DRE trained member has formed the opinion that a person’s ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired by a drug category, then a demand for a urine or blood sample will be made. The seized sample is then sent to the RCMP Forensic lab to be analyzed. No charges are laid on the driver until the DRE evaluator’s call has been confirmed by the results of the analysis of the driver’s urine or blood sample.

Is there a breathalyzer or some type of roadside screening device for cannabis?

  • The EPS has purchased a small number of the Dräger 5000 drug testing devices, which is an oral fluid testing device approved by the federal government. Future purchasing decisions will be based on evaluation of the Dräger 5000’s performance in the field as well as development and federal approval of other roadside testing devices in the future.

How much cannabis can I consume and still drive legally?

  • According to Federal legislation, the legal limit is less than 2 nanograms (ng) of THC per millilitre of blood. The penalties for amounts of cannabis between 2 and 5 ng, over 5 ng and a combination of 2.5 ng/50 mg per 100 mL of blood alcohol or more vary. You can find the specific limits and corresponding penalties on the Government of Canada website.

What penalties could I face if I drive while impaired by cannabis?

  • You can face both federal penalties and provincial sanctions. Federal penalties vary depending on the amount of THC found in your body, as well as the number of times you have committed the offence, but they include fines or imprisonment. You can find the specific limits and corresponding penalties on the Government of Canada website
  • Provincial sanctions also vary depending on the number of times you have committed the offence, but they include licence suspensions up to 90 days, vehicles seizures up to 7 days, mandatory remedial education and participation in an ignition interlock program (for alcohol-related offences).
  • Note that a zero tolerance approach has been implemented for Graduated Driver Licensing (GDL) drivers, and specific sanctions apply to GDL drivers found with any amount of cannabis or illegal drugs in their blood.
  • You can find more information about the specific provincial sanctions on the Government of Alberta website.

How much cannabis can I consume and how long do I need to wait to drive after consuming?

  • As with alcohol, it is very difficult to provide specific timelines and amounts, as cannabis affects people differently. There is also a wide variety of ways cannabis can be consumed with a wide variety of THC contents. The safest choice is to use responsibly and refrain from driving after using cannabis.

What if I have a prescription for cannabis, can I drive after using my medication?

  • The proposed legal limits of THC applies regardless of whether the person has a prescription for cannabis.

Can people drive legally while using other prescription medication, such as opioid pain killers?

  • The SFST and DRE programs are not specific to cannabis. Prescription medications and other drug categories are detected and measured using SFST and DRE. Impaired driving is an offence, regardless of whether the drug consumed is an illicit drug or legally prescribed. Many prescriptions have labels on the bottle warning about operating vehicles and machinery while taking the prescribed medication.

How do I transport cannabis properly once it's legalized?

  • Just like alcohol, cannabis will need to be secured in closed packaging and out of reach of anyone in the vehicle. If you are pulled over for any reason, and police see cannabis stored improperly in your vehicle, you could be arrested and searched, and you could face a fine.

What do I do if I see someone get into their vehicle after using cannabis or using cannabis while driving?

  • As with alcohol, if you suspect an impaired driver, call 911 immediately to Curb the Danger. If you are calling 911 to report an impaired driver, you are exempt from distracted driving legislation during the call.
  • Crime Stoppers allows you to report habitually impaired drivers anonymously. If you know someone who regularly drives while impaired by cannabis, contact Crime Stoppers. Please provide as much information as possible, including where the person lives, works, vehicle description, licence plate number, if you know specific times of day the person typically drives while impaired, etc. The more information you can provide, the better our chances of getting the impaired driver off the road.

Can passengers in a vehicle use cannabis?

  • No. The only time cannabis can be used in a vehicle is if the vehicle is being used as a residence (such as a parked RV).

Can I smoke in my parked car if I’m not driving it?

  • No. The only time cannabis can be used in a vehicle is if the vehicle is being used as a residence (such as a parked RV).

Useful Resources:

Cannabis facts – Alberta Gaming, Liquor and Cannabis (AGLC)

Alberta’s approach to cannabis legalization – Government of Alberta

Impaired Driving Law Changes (changes to Alberta’s Traffic Safety Act) – Government of Alberta

Backgrounder: Changes to Impaired Driving Laws (changes to federal Criminal Code) – Government of Canada

Clearing the Smoke on Cannabis: Cannabis Use and Driving – Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction