Measures to prevent drug-impaired driving translating to charges, Manitoba RCMP says

WINNIPEG — New numbers released by the RCMP in Manitoba are shedding light on how drug-impaired driving laws are being enforced in the province.

Police across Canada were given new powers in 2018 when Canada legalized cannabis.

THC driving limits and oral fluid screening devices have given officers additional ways to enforce drug-impaired driving.

“So the increase might not necessarily be just because cannabis was legalized, it’s more about the additional authorities police were given,” said Sgt. Mark Hume, acting enforcement commander for RCMP Traffic Services in Manitoba.

Since cannabis was legalized in October 2018, the Manitoba RCMP said outside Winnipeg there has been 110 Criminal Code drug-impaired driving cases in the province, with 48 involving cannabis.

There have also been two cases of drug-impaired driving causing bodily harm/death involving cannabis.

“It’s a significant increase since pre-legalization, mainly because we didn’t necessarily have the tools or the legal authority to enforce it as much prior to legalization,” said Hume.

According to a Public Safety Canada report in Dec. 2020, the proportion of drug-impaired driving incidents has increased over the past decade, with cannabis being the most commonly detected drug.

MADD Canada CEO Andrew Murie isn’t surprised there’s been an increase but worries about gaps in the system, including the processing time for cases where a blood sample is required which is needed to prove a driver is over the THC limit.

“Something needs to be done dramatically to improve the speed in which an officer submits a blood test and gets one back from the lab,” said Murie.

Hume said processing time has improved.

He said any driver with more than 5 ng of THC per mL of blood can be charged with a Criminal Code drug-impaired driving offence.

“If you’re over that limit then it’s a charge, regardless of how it’s affected you and impaired you,” said Hume.

A recent study and experts have called for improvements to better detect cannabis impairment.

A spokesperson for the federal Department of Justice said the government is confident in the current tools and techniques but is continuing to monitor the development of new technology in detecting drug impairment.

Data from the Winnipeg Police Service on drug-impaired driving charges since legalization wasn’t immediately available.

The RCMP said alcohol-impaired driving cases are more common and that drug-impaired driving cases involving cocaine and methamphetamine are also a concern.  

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