A cannabis leaf lying on a wooden table, with a rolled joint over top, and a set of car keys next to it.

The Dope on Cannabis and Driving

February 26, 2020 / Elliott Silverstein, Director Government Relations – CAA Club Group

The recreational consumption of cannabis became legal over a year ago. Around its anniversary, the legal sale of cannabis edible products hit the marketplace. Edibles are the second most popular way of consuming cannabis, after smoking. This means a whole new set of Canadians, who never wanted to ‘smoke’ cannabis, now have a legal option to partake in its consumption.

The body metabolizes edibles differently than smoked or vaped cannabis. It can take hours to take effect, which leads to two problems:

  1. The consumer may not think one edible was enough because they don’t immediately feel the ‘high’ so they eat more, and
  2. They may think because they feel fine, it’s safe to get behind the wheel, only to be hit mid-drive with the effect.

Also, the eventual high felt from edibles can be more intense than the experience from smoking cannabis, especially for an inexperienced user.

The fact is that whether the high is from smoking or digesting cannabis, the effects vary by product and by individual. And no matter how it’s consumed, driving should never be entertained.

The risks of driving high.

CAA recently sponsored a study that asked drivers about driving and cannabis usage. It revealed that 1.2 million Ontario drivers have, at some point, driven high after consuming cannabis. 71% of these drivers felt confident in their ability to operate a vehicle under the influence, and an alarming 29% said it didn’t impact their driving behaviour. Some said it actually enhanced their ability to drive1.

In addition, the survey found that cannabis is not typically consumed on its own. More than half of Ontario drivers who use cannabis are “poly-users,” meaning they usually pair cannabis with another substance. Alcohol is by far the most common substance paired with cannabis.

Data on collisions and fatalities is limited, making it difficult to confirm how many of the documented traffic incidents were due to cannabis. However data from other jurisdictions, where recreational marijuana use has been legal for some time, suggests that these concerns are well-founded. In Colorado, where cannabis was legalized five years ago, trips to the emergency room increased, primarily due to people over-consuming edibles while experiencing a delayed high.

Driving under the influence of drugs, alcohol or a combination of both, is illegal and has been an offence under the Criminal Code of Canada since 1925.

If caught driving impaired, penalties can be substantial, as drivers may be subject to both provincial fines as well as federal penalties. Click here to see the mandatory fines and potential jail time drivers can face.

If convicted, insurability in the regular market may no longer be an option. These drivers could be placed in the non-standard market for a period of at least 3 years, paying hefty insurance premiums.

And if involved in a collision while impaired, resulting in a conviction, there is a good chance that the resulting claim will be denied.

What We Can Do – Raise Awareness

CAA SCO continues to work with government, police, and community stakeholders, raising awareness of the dangers of impaired driving through public awareness campaigns, research and CAA curated publications. For information, resources, or to learn more about CAA’s efforts visit www.caasco.com/cannabis. Also on this site, you can watch our videos featuring Sgt. Kerry Schmidt of the OPP and Teresa Di Felice of CAA SCO, discussing impaired driving laws and roadside testing for cannabis.


1 Based on research results conducted by DIG Insights commissioned by CAA South Central Ontario in June 2019.