Drug-impaired driving jumped 43% the year after Canada legalized pot

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New Statistics Canada data shows the number of police charges for drug-impaired driving jumped 43% after Parliament legalized marijuana.

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“Drug-impaired driving is significantly under detected,” Statistics Canada wrote in a report called Impaired Driving in Canada, according to Blacklock’s Reporter. “Drugs may be involved as often, or maybe more often, than alcohol in impaired driving incidents.”

There were 6,453 police-reported incidents of drug-impaired driving in in 2019, the first full year of legalization — a 43% increase over 2018.

“Unlike drinking and driving charges that peak in twilight hours, the rate of drug-impaired driving varies little from one time of day to another,” said the report.

“Police reported just as many of these incidents between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., as between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.,” wrote analysts.

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Cases also took twice as long to wind through the courts as alcohol-related charges.

In 2018,  Crown prosecutors’ testimony at the Senate legal and constitutional affairs committee said there would be a wave of cases that would clog court proceedings once marijuana was legal.

“The system is not prepared to absorb all the implications of this,” testified James Palangio, representing the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel. “If the question is, do we have enough on the ground for the coming into force of legalization? I don’t think we do, but we’re doing the best we can.”

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Statistics Canada says in 2018 it took courts an average 245 days to clear drug-impaired driving cases compared to an 114 days for drinking and driving cases.

Lawyers testified cannabis legislation will likely end up with more police charges, trials, appeals and delays in provincial courts.

“This litigation will go on for a decade,” said Michael Edelson, a criminal defence lawyer with Edelson & Friedman LLP of Ottawa.

“Previous legislative changes in this area have spawned a massive number of trials and appeals, not only challenging the constitutionality of provisions but the science associated with them.”

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