Manitoba

Drunk and distracted driving eclipse cannabis offences on Manitoba roads 4 months after legalization

There have been dozens of cannabis-related driving offences in Manitoba during the four months since legalization, but nowhere near as many as drunk or distracted driving.

Majority of cannabis infractions for improper storage, though RCMP suspect impaired charges may rise in time

Manitoba RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre said one explanation for why police are seeing more drunk rather than cannabis-impaired drivers could come down to a lack of roadside testing technology. (Shutterstock)

There have been dozens of cannabis-related driving offences in Manitoba during the four months since legalization, but nowhere near as many as drunk or distracted driving.

There were 75 cannabis-related driving infractions since Oct. 17, 2018, compared to 388 for impaired driving and 133 for distracted driving, said RCMP Sgt. Paul Manaigre.

"Officers right now have more experience and are better at detecting impaired drivers by alcohol — we have everything in place so it's easier to get those, whereas the cannabis is newer," said Manaigre.

"We are adapting our training methods and bringing in the new devices, so these numbers I guarantee will go up."

One pattern that stands out in the provincial cannabis data is that the vast majority of infractions weren't for drug-impaired driving. A total of 57 were for unlawful transport of cannabis and 11 for consumption in a vehicle.

Storage rules

Provincial rules dictate people in vehicles must store cannabis products in a secure compartment like the trunk so that it isn't accessible to anyone in the vehicle. An exception is for people taking taxis, for example, and the cannabis in the passenger's possession.

There have been 16 drug impaired driving investigations since legalization, Manaigre said, six of which were for cannabis and 10 for other drugs. 

Of all the driving suspensions doled out since mid-October, 125 were for alcohol and four were drug-related, with only two of them for cannabis, said Manaigre.

More drinkers than tokers

Another explanation for why there might've been so many more drunk than cannabis-impaired drivers caught at the wheel in recent months is that alcohol is still the main substance of choice for Manitobans, said Manaigre.

"The numbers should be skewed higher in that regard because there is a greater proportion of people that drink," he said.

"It suggests that people just have that greater tendency to have a few drinks thinking they're fine and get behind the wheel."

Manaigre said he wouldn't be surprised to see the unlawful storage numbers decrease as the public becomes more aware of the rules, though he also suspects cannabis-related driving suspensions could trend upward as local police forces gain more experience and roadside detection devices.

"The cannabis side of it, you're kind of looking at a new law that takes effect, there's probably going to need to be a grace period for people to familiarize themselves with the rules," he said.

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Bryce Hoye

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Bryce Hoye is an award-winning journalist and science writer with a background in wildlife biology and interests in courts, social justice, health and more. Story idea? Email bryce.hoye@cbc.ca.

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