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Almost Half of Young Cannabis Users in Ontario Admit to Driving High: Study

July 14, 2021
5 mins
A driver sits happily behind the wheel with three passengers

Newly released research from Western University in London, Ontario, finds 48% of drivers aged 18 to 24 in Ontario admitting to driving while high on cannabis.

The research, conducted by Robert Colonna, a PhD candidate in health promotion at Western, included a survey of 426 young drivers in 2018, one month before recreational cannabis was declared legal in Canada.

Driving while impaired on cannabis (or alcohol) is considered a major offence in Ontario, and it can have severe ramifications on your driving record if you’re convicted as well as the cost of a car insurance policy.

Astoundingly, Colonna told the London Free Press some of his young survey respondents believe their driving skills improved while driving high. Contrary to that foolhardy perspective, the federal government says driving while high on cannabis (and many other drugs whether legal or not) affects a person’s motor skills, slows reaction time, and impairs short-term memory and concentration. Ottawa also says a drug impaired driving incident happens every three hours in Canada.

A similar survey in 2020 found 20% of Canadians aged 18 to 24 admitting to driving while impaired on cannabis.

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What are the penalties for driving high in Ontario?

According to the Ontario Government, in 2016, 74 people were killed in collisions involving a driver under the influence of drugs in the province. If that doesn’t dissuade you from the act, maybe the consequences for being convicted of driving while impaired on cannabis will.

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, drivers who the police determine are impaired will face penalties immediately. You may also face additional consequences later if you are convicted in court. The penalties can vary depending on your age, licence type, the amount of alcohol or drugs in your system, and how many times you have been convicted:

  • For a first offence, it’s a three-day licence suspension that cannot be appealed and a $250 fine if you have 2 to 5 nanograms (ng) of THC per millilitre (ml) of blood. If you have more than 5 ng/ml of THC in your bloodstream, it’s an automatic 90-day licence suspension, seven-day vehicle impoundment, a $550 fine, and a $198 licence reinstatement fee.
  • For a second offence within five years, if you have less than 5 ng/ml of THC in your bloodstream, it’s a seven-day licence suspension that cannot be appealed and a $350 fine. You must also attend a mandatory education program (for a second occurrence within 10 years). If you have more than 5 ng/ml of THC in your blood, it’s an automatic 90-day licence suspension, seven-day vehicle impoundment, a $550 fine, and a $198 licence reinstatement fee.
  • For a third and subsequent offences within five years, and if you have less than 5 ng/ml of THC in your blood, it’s a 30-day licence suspension that cannot be appealed and a $450 fine. You must attend a mandatory treatment program (for third and subsequent offence within 10 years) and are required to use an ignition interlock device for at least six months (for third and subsequent offence within 10 years). Additionally, you must undergo a mandatory medical evaluation to determine whether you meet the requirements for driving in Ontario (for fourth and subsequent offence within 10 years). If you have more than 5 ng/ml of THC in your blood, it’s also an automatic 90-day licence suspension, seven-day vehicle impoundment, a $550 fine, and a $198 licence reinstatement fee.

In addition to the above, you will also face a $281 licence reinstatement fee each time your licence is suspended. Young or novice drivers may also be charged under the Highway Traffic Act and if convicted could face an additional suspension and fine.

But that’s not all. According to the federal government, there are separate penalties for having specified prohibited levels of cannabis in your bloodstream within two hours of driving. The fines for a first-time offence of driving while high include:

  • A mandatory minimum fine of up to $1,000 if you’re caught driving with less than 5 ng/ml of THC in your blood.
  • A mandatory minimum fine of $1,000 if you have more than 5 ng of THC in your system and a maximum penalty of five years in prison.
  • If you kill someone while driving high, you could face a lifetime prison sentence.

How does an impaired driving conviction affect your insurance premium?

Speaking of getting high, you can guess what else is going to be incredibly high if your driving record shows an impaired driving conviction from cannabis: your car insurance premium. That conviction stays on your driving record for at least three years. You could be flagged by insurers as a high-risk driver, meaning it won’t be easy for you to get an auto policy, and if you do, it won’t be cheap.

Driving while high does not improve your driving skills. It puts you and others at tremendous risk. A word to the wise: always drive straight and sober without exception.

Liam Lahey

Liam Lahey is a versatile, seasoned writer and editor. He worked as both a staff writer and freelance writer for many business and technology publications as well as for several newspapers. He writes about home, auto, and travel insurance, and is a media spokesperson for RATESDOTCA.

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