A recent survey by Health Canada presented some startling facts: 39% of participants admitted to driving after consuming cannabis.
As the country gears up to legalize marijuana this summer, the Canadian government and safe driving advocacy groups across the country are getting busy. They’re creating various campaigns to educate and dissuade drivers from hitting the road after ingesting marijuana.
“Consequence Strains” Highlights Risks of Driving While High
Lorne Simon is the founder R.I.D.E. Checks, which partners with community groups and police services in Ontario to distribute information on responsible driving. In 2017, he helped launch two campaigns that focused specifically on cannabis-impaired driving.
Recently, he partnered with licensed producer Beleave—their joint campaign spreads the message that driving while high has serious consequences. The campaign is called Consequence Strains and features “strains” including “Slammer Time” and “Kourtroom Kush” to highlight the repercussions of driving while impaired.
“If you’re going to use marijuana for medical purposes or recreationally, it’s still impairment, it’s going to affect your driving ability,” Lorne says.
While the campaign was produced in Ontario, Lorne says the intent was to air it nationally. “We launched here in Toronto but then it kind of goes everywhere,” he says. “Impaired driving is impaired driving everywhere. We’ll give the ad to anyone who wants it.”
Lorne is currently planning an educational component of the campaign, which will involve in-person visits to schools and offices. There will be an additional video campaign leading up to the official date of legalization.
Government Contributes Their Own Campaigning Against Impaired Driving
Canada’s Public Safety department has also produced ads, with the same purpose of targeting cannabis-impaired drivers. The Don’t Drive High public awareness campaign was launched nationally in early December 2017. It was created in partnership with the Canadian Automobile Association, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, MADD Canada and Young Drivers of Canada.
“The campaign was developed to counter myths and misconceptions among Canadians aged 16–24 about driving under the influence of cannabis and other drugs,” a spokesperson wrote in an e-mail statement. “Our goal is to make drug-impaired driving socially unacceptable in Canada, reduce the number of people who drive under the influence of cannabis or other drugs, and make our roads and communities safer for everyone.”
The current ads will run until March 2018, with awareness-raising activities continuing throughout the five-year campaign. Public Safety Canada is also working closely with provincial and territorial partners to align respective activities and messaging.
How Will the Government Deal With Cannabis-Impaired Drivers?
Currently the national government is weighing different ways to test impaired drivers for cannabis. A saliva testing device is reportedly close to being released, and it’s thought this will be the first testing method used on drivers.
Meanwhile, provinces are in the middle of determining their rules around driving while high. In Ontario, the local government recently announced tough driving while impaired laws. There will be a zero-tolerance policy for drivers under the age of 21, novice drivers as well as commercial drivers.
But while some have tried to equate certain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels with blood alcohol levels, it’s still not clear how limits for cannabis-impaired driving laws will be determined.
For now, clearly the message coming from the federal government and road safety groups is abstinence—just don’t consume and drive.
Photo credit: Benjamin Voros