With legal pot looming, Sask. to get tough on drug-impaired drivers

'Government sending clear message' with new rules, says minister responsible

Smoking marijuana

The Saskatchewan government introduced new legislation today as it gets ready for the legalization of marijuana. The government says people should not get behind the wheel if they've been using drugs. (CBC)


While the government of Saskatchewan has not yet finalized its plan for the sale and distribution of marijuana, it is today declaring its stance on drug-impaired driving.

'Driving impaired by drugs or alcohol is a bad idea, with serious consequences.' - Joe Hargrave 

New legislation introduced Tuesday in the provincial legislature comes with a warning from the government that it will take a zero-tolerance stand on drug-impaired driving.  

"In Saskatchewan it is currently and will continue to be illegal to drive while impaired whether by drugs or alcohol," said Joe Hargrave, the minister responsible for SGI, in a news release. "That is not changing, even when personal cannabis use becomes legal in July."

The legislation would result in immediate suspension of a driver's licence after being charged with one of the three new Criminal Code charges under Bill C-46.

The driver's vehicle would also be seized for 30 days after a charge — 60 days if the driver is also impaired by alcohol and has a blood alcohol concentration over .16.

Under the new legislation, a conviction for driving while impaired by cannabis would bring a driving suspension of one to five years and penalties ranging from $1,250 to $2,500 under SGI's Safe Driver Recognition program.

"If somebody's impaired, I don't care if they're impaired by prescription drugs, by illegal drugs or legal drugs cannabis whatever. Impaired driving is impaired driving and we cannot have impaired drivers on the road."

Hargrave said police do not currently have enough tools at their disposal to get convictions for drug-impaired driving, he said the new roadside tests should change that.

Joe Hargrave Nov. 16

“In Saskatchewan it is currently and will continue to be illegal to drive while impaired whether by drugs or alcohol,” says Joe Hargrave, the minister responsible for SGI. (Matthew Howard/CBC)

Zero tolerance

The changes clear the way for new federal laws on drug-impaired driving expected soon.

From the provincial government's perspective, zero tolerance means that people should not drive with any level of marijuana in their system that is detectable by a federally-approved screening device.

It is expected that once the federal Bill C-46 is in place, police here will have access to a roadside device that will be able to test saliva for marijuana use.  

What the people want

"Our government is sending a clear message, while cannabis may soon be legal, driving under the influence is illegal, dangerous to public safety, and will be dealt with harshly," Hargrave said.  "Bottom line – driving impaired by drugs or alcohol is a bad idea, with serious consequences."

Penalties for driving under the influence of drugs (not just marijuana) will be similar to those faced with changes of driving under the influence of alcohol.

The provincial government suggested that this is what people in Saskatchewan demanded when they completed the recent cannabis survey.

Two-thirds of the people who took the survey agreed the same penalties should apply, with a majority also saying they wanted a zero tolerance stance on drug-impaired driving.  

MADD happy with changes

MADD Canada's Saskatchewan chapter says it has been discussing this type of legislation with the Ministry of Justice and SGI since the summer.

"We're really happy to see that they went with zero tolerance. It mirrors what went on in Quebec earlier this month. We really think it's the best approach and we're happy to work with the government on this," said Michelle Okere with Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada's Saskatchewan chapter.

Okere said she's hopeful the federal legislation will be made official next month.

MADD Canada is currently running radio and TV ads with information about drug impairment.

"We're recommending four hours before driving, so if you have smoked marijuana then wait four hours. If you are new to smoking marijuana, if you have mixed drugs and alcohol or if you have ingested it, the period should be longer," Okere said. 

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