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Alberta’s Impaired Driving Laws

When it comes to alcohol, most of us have a general understanding of what is and is not acceptable.

But as the one-year anniversary of cannabis legalization in Canada approaches, there’s still a lot of confusion.  As a responsible user, you’ve probably found yourself asking questions like “is there a legal limit for cannabis?”  “How is it tested for?”  “If I smoke cannabis today, will I test positive tomorrow if I’m pulled over?”.

Today we’ll be delving into the topic of impaired driving laws in Alberta – how they work, how they relate specifically to cannabis, and what you need to know to keep yourself safe behind the wheel.

Understanding Impaired Driving Laws

The main piece of legislation concerning alcohol and impaired driving in Alberta is the province’s Traffic Safety Act.  The act is informed by the Criminal Code of Canada, and it specifically outlines restrictions on alcohol consumption and the operation of a motor vehicle.

Impaired Driving And Alcohol

The Traffic Safety Act imposes “administrative sanctions” on drivers with a blood alcohol concentration (a measure of the amount of alcohol in your system) between 0.05% and 0.079%.  ABAC in excess of 0.08%, however, is considered grounds for a “drunk driving” charge under federal laws.

What that means in layman’s terms is this – if you’re pulled over with a blood-alcohol level between 0.05% to 0.079%, you’ve violated Alberta’s traffic safety laws.  Typically for a first offence, this will result in a 3-day license suspension and vehicle seizure, but not a criminal record.

If, however, you blow OVER 0.08%, you’re considered to be in violation of the Criminal Code and subject to criminal charges.  You can also be criminally charged for refusing to provide a breath sample (the standard method for testing blood alcohol levels).

There’s also a general charge of impaired driving which can result from alcohol consumption regardless of blood alcohol levels – this implies that, although you’re under the 0.08% “limit”, your ability to safely operate a motor vehicle has been compromised.

Alberta’s Impaired Driving Law And Cannabis

There’s a major misconception floating around that driving while high is somehow “safer” than driving drunk.

We could sit around all day and debate which is “worse”, but the bottom line is this – driving while intoxicated, regardless of the culprit, is a HUGE mistake.

With that said, when it comes to liquor, there’s been a lot more public education regarding blood alcohol levels.  With cannabis being so new to the market, a lot of people are still unaware of the specifics of THC and driving.

Is There A “Legal Limit” For Cannabis?

In April of 2017, the federal government introduced new legislation to amend and expand sections of the Criminal Code of Canada that cover impaired driving.  Bill C-46 specifies (among other things) the legal amount of THC in the blood while operating a motor vehicle as follows:

  • 2-5 Nanograms Per Millilitre (NG/ML) Of THC – $1000 Maximum Fine
  • Over 5 NG/ML Of THC (Or A Combined 2.5 NG/ML Plus 05% Blood Alcohol Level Or Over) – $1000 Minimum Fine (First Offense)
  • 30 Days Minimum Imprisonment (Second Offense)
  • 120 Days Minimum Imprisonment (Third Or Higher Offense)

It should be pointed out that, similar to alcohol, you can be considered “legally impaired” regardless of THC level if it’s determined that your ability to operate a vehicle has been compromised.

How Cannabis Intoxication Is Screened For

During a roadside impairment check, cannabis can be tested for with a saliva sample.  As of right now, the federal government has authorized the use of the Drager DrugTest 5000, a device that’s supposed to test saliva for both the presence and concentration of THC.

The device is controversial, however. There have been a number of media reports about false-positive readings, and one Drager employee has even stated that the “device is there to really just identify whether there’s a presence of THC. It’s not meant to measure impairment”.

According to the Department of Justice’s website, a positive oral sample “may provide grounds for the investigation to proceed further by making a demand for a blood sample”.

The Drager DrugTest 5000 was being tested by Edmonton Police just prior to legalization, while the Calgary Police Service announced that it would be holding off for now.

But there are also other ways for police officers to screen for high drivers.

What Is A “Field Sobriety Test”?

A field sobriety test is one of the most common methods used by police to test for intoxication and is used when it’s suspected that the person being stopped is under the influence.  The test involves a number of questions, as well as an eye and movement exam.  It’s designed to detect the kind of impairment which would be caused by drugs and alcohol.

One example that’s applicable to cannabis is an eye test, in which a police officer checks for dilated pupils and other tell-tale signs of drug use. Another is the “one-legged stand” test.

Carrying Cannabis In Your Car

In addition to making sure that you’re sober and able to drive safely, you should also be aware of how you store your product while it’s in your car.

In Alberta, cannabis is allowed to be carried in a vehicle, but must be stored in a closed container, and must be out of reach of both the driver and passengers.  Your best bet is to keep it either in the trunk or somewhere like a glove compartment.

The Bottom Line On Cannabis And Driving

At the end of the day, the vast majority of our customers are responsible users who take the safety of themselves, their families, and the other people on our roads seriously.

The best approach is common sense.  Treat cannabis with the same respect you treat alcohol.  If you use it and you know that you’ll need to drive later, make sure you can plan ahead, take a taxi or consider appointing a designated driver.

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