The Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) has released a new report on Recreational Cannabis Consumption Spaces in Canada with support from the Canada Safety Council and arrive alive DRIVE SOBER®. This report summarizes important public safety risks that warrant careful consideration to inform decision-making as this issue emerges. It describes needed measures to mitigate foreseeable harms and ensure adequate training and prevention strategies are developed and operationalized in advance of moving forward, even in a limited fashion.
“The risks associated with cannabis-impaired driving cannot be ignored, particularly at a time when self-reported risk-taking on the road is increasing across several behaviours, and the percentage of road fatalities involving drivers testing positive for cannabis is rising,” shares Robyn Robertson, TIRF President & CEO.
More than 40 years of alcohol research have guided legislation, policies, and programs to prevent and reduce alcohol-impaired driving. While less is known about cannabis-impaired driving, awareness of the issue has grown as has knowledge about the risks it poses. A steadily rising trend in fatal crashes post-legalization in Canada, combined with increases in self-reported use of cannabis within two hours of driving, warrants attention. Of greater concern, the combined effects of alcohol and cannabis are more impairing than either drug alone.
This report shares recommendations to guide discussion about permitting cannabis consumption spaces and addresses the following topics:
- prevalence of cannabis and driving in Canada
- enforcement, detection and impaired driving
- policy and hospitality training
- regulatory concerns
TIRF and its community partners underscore the importance of governments adopting a thorough and thoughtful approach prior to making changes and allowing Canadian municipalities to permit recreational cannabis consumption spaces in their cities.
Cannabis-positive drivers are frequently detected in trauma centres in Canada. Approximately half of 4,976 injured drivers receiving treatment in 15 trauma centres recruited between 2018 and 2020 had at least one impairing substance in their system. Cannabis was most prevalent with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) being detected in almost 20% of drivers. According to a large-scale national trauma centre study, more than 7% of drivers had ≥ 2 ng/mL, and 3.5% had ≥ 5 ng/mL, indicating recent use and likely impairment. Drivers younger than 35 years were more likely to test positive.
As well, the report recommends that any rollout of this practice in Canada be developed after reviewing the stringent regulatory environment currently in place in European countries that have consumption spaces.
“We have witnessed an increase in the number of drug-impaired driving fatalities and injuries in Canada over the past 5 years as well as an increase in the number of drivers who admit to consuming drugs and alcohol before driving,” shares Ward Vanlaar, TIRF COO. “As such, it’s important for jurisdictions potentially increasing access to both alcohol and drugs to consider the ramifications. It would not be ideal for jurisdictions to take a learn-as-you-go approach to this societal issue due to the risk of increasing fatalities and injuries on our roads if it moves forward too quickly.”
Since the legalization of cannabis in October 2018, the number of fatally injured drivers testing positive for cannabis has increased. Among fatally injured drivers in Canada in 2018 (excluding British Columbia), 30.7% (272) tested positive for alcohol, 27.2% (231) tested positive for cannabis, and 10.3% (91) tested positive for alcohol and cannabis. The percentage of fatalities increased in the last quarter of 2018 when cannabis legislation came into effect. More concerning, the percentage of fatalities involving these substances increased in 2020 (excluding BC) with 31.5% of fatally injured drivers testing positive for alcohol (232), 30.5% (215) testing positive for cannabis, and 12.5% (92) testing positive for alcohol and cannabis combined.
“We have seen a rise in drug-impaired driving in the past five years and as an organization, we are always concerned about the increased availability of cannabis or alcohol. Establishments serving either substance must operate within rigorous and enforced regulatory guidelines and servers must be trained. We do not believe alcohol and cannabis should be served in the same setting at this time,” said Steve Sullivan, Chief Executive Officer of MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Driving) Canada.
The report underscores that any proposal to move forward with the implementation of cannabis consumption spaces in the absence of effective and well-developed prevention strategies to protect the public from recognized harm is premature. Such a move would be in sharp contrast to Federal and provincial/territorial governments embracing road safety as a priority and moving to implement the Safe System approach to eliminate road deaths and injuries.
“As a safety organization, we believe that exploring and implementing safe and responsible options for recreational cannabis consumption is important to reducing the risks associated with impaired driving. The Traffic Injury Research Foundation’s report on Recreational Cannabis Consumption Spaces provides valuable insights and considerations for Canadian jurisdictions as they navigate this complex issue,” says Gareth Jones, President and CEO of the Canada Safety Council.
Before jurisdictions explore whether to allow for consumption spaces, TIRF advises governments to consider the following prior to implementation:
- Strong coordination with and a robust stakeholder engagement strategy are required for impacted communities.
- Feedback from public safety and public health organizations needs to be prioritized.
- Significant funding be provided to jurisdictions for public education campaigns.
- A slower rollout of licensed locations be undertaken so that community impacts can be evaluated.
Download the report:
Recreational Cannabis Consumption Spaces: Key Considerations for Canadian Jurisdictions
About TIRF Canada
The vision of the Traffic Injury Research Foundation (TIRF) is to ensure people using roads make it home safely every day by eliminating road deaths, serious injuries and their social costs. TIRF’s mission is to be the knowledge source for safe road users and a world leader in research, program and policy development, evaluation, and knowledge transfer. TIRF is a registered charity and depends on grants, awards, and donations to provide services for the public. Visit www.tirf.ca or find all TIRF websites and social media at https://linktr.ee/tirfcanada.
About Sober Smart Driving
Sober Smart Driving is a free education program that contains answers to the most common questions about alcohol and impaired driving. It includes free impaired driving posters, brochures, flashcards and other resources that agencies can use to educate people of all ages and promote solutions. Visit sobersmartdriving.tirf.ca