Marijuana theft, impaired by drug charges increase in first year of legal pot, police say

Over the last year since marijuana was legalized across the country, drug-impaired driving charges have continued to rise, according to the Waterloo Regional Police Service.
Over the last year since marijuana was legalized across the country, drug-impaired driving charges have continued to rise, according to the Waterloo Regional Police Service. (Julianne Hazlewood/CBC)

Drug-impaired driving incidents have continued to rise since recreational cannabis was legalized last year on Oct. 17, according to the Waterloo Regional Police Service.

Marijuana theft has also increased.

Staff Sgt. Mike Hinsperger says the increase in drug impaired driving charges is part of a longer-term trend that preceded legalization. 

"We've been seeing a steady increase ... for the last five years," said Hinsperger.

"The types of impaired by drug investigations we're involving ourselves in are, more often than not, multiple drugs combined causing the impairment." 

The increase in drug-impaired incidents could in part be a result of more fulsome testing on the roads. 

There are now 14 drug recognition officers with the Waterloo regional police and two oral-fluid drug devices, which tests a driver's saliva for THC and other drugs. 

But there are still far more charges stemming from impairment by alcohol.

So far in 2019, there have been more than 350 alcohol-impaired charges in Waterloo region, compared to 75 charges for impairment by drugs.

In 2018, there were 69 drug-impaired charges, 70 in 2017 and 53 charges in 2016 connected to drug-impaired driving, according to Waterloo regional police.

Hinsperger pointed out police don't need suspicion of consumption to use a breathalyzer, whereas suspicion of drug use is required under the law, making it easier to test for alcohol impairment. 

'Homes and gardens being broken into'

Wellington County OPP Const. Joshua Cunningham has noticed even if people are purchasing marijuana legally, they're not always following the rules.

"People aren't storing and carrying and using marijuana as the regulations are set out," said Cunningham.

In Ontario, people of legal age can have a maximum of 30 grams of dried cannabis on them in public at any time. 

Last year, the province passed its cannabis legislation, allowing Ontario residents to smoke recreational marijuana wherever tobacco smoking is permitted.

Cunningham says police are also seeing something unexpected — people who are growing marijuana legally are being targeted through theft.

"We're finding homes and gardens being broken into and product and marijuana and cannabis taken from those people," said Cunningham.

The next challenge for police is edibles.

Food and drink with THC are officially regulated on Oct. 17, 2019, on the one-year anniversary of pot legalization. But the earliest edibles will be legally on sale in Canada is mid-December.

Waterloo regional police are bracing for the change.

"When people are using edibles, the effects aren't quite as is immediate as with some of the other forms of ingestion ... Now, there's that potential for them to get behind the wheel of a vehicle," said Hinsperger.

"[It's] certainly something we're going to have to watch carefully and see what the results are moving forward."


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?