Drunk Driving vs High Driving In Canada and the USA

By A.C. Burgess

We are now at this stage where legalizing cannabis has many users not fully understanding what their rights are, or what will happen if they are caught high or medicated in a certain situation. It is better to be educated on this subject and that is why I choose to share this with our readers. Most of us are familiar with the laws put forth when driving impaired on alcohol. But what are the laws when you are caught driving while high, or medicated? How is the limit determined? What are the penalties and long term consequences of having this on your record? Where to go for help and so on.

One thing that most believe is, that you should govern cannabis in the same way you do alcohol, up to a certain extent. Alcohol is in no way considered a medicine or a reliever of any kind of  beneficial condition, cannabis is. Therefore, there will be different conditions and situations that the two will not share. So what are the real consequences for driving drunk vs driving high?

Below is an explanation & infographic along with a few facts, presented to us by the experts O’Neill Moon Quedado LLP, that compiles many sources from Canada and the USA explaining the difference between drunk driving and high driving.


There are couple of charges that qualify as a driving offense, commonly called DUI (driving under the influence). These include Impaired Driving, Over 80, failure or refusal to perform physical sobriety tests or give breath or blood samples.  Not only that, but this also includes Impaired Driving charges connected to driving under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.This is noteworthy because as Canada moves to legalize marijuana, new changes will be implemented to existing DUI laws. Marijuana consumption trends are changing, and with it the way in which people interact with and interpret the law.

Drunk Driving vs High Driving

Drunk driving or driving under the influence of drugs is a crime, but what defines a DUI (Driving under the influence) or DWI (Driving while intoxicated)? The following infographic explains what is considered illegal in both Canada and the USA, and what are the differences.

While major policies are being discussed, Canada can look at how states such as Alaska, Colorado, Washington, Washington DC, and Oregon are implementing their existing laws and regulations on impaired driving. Can Canadian and US driving laws serve as a Canada’s marijuana manual on creating laws for drug-impaired driving? If the information and trends in the above infographic are anything to go by, we can very well see Canada constructing a similar legal framework in the near future.

Measuring alcohol levels and drug usage

In Canada and the US, drivers are first asked to take a breathalyzer test, which can determine level of alcohol in a person’s system. In the US, by passing the breathalyzer test, the driver is also asked to place an absorbent swab in their mouth and chew on it or touch it on their tongue. In some states (Colorado, California etc.) if an officer pulls over a driver suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana, the driver would be asked to take a sobriety test (“horizontal gaze nystagmus test”, “walk and turn test”, “one-leg stand”). The officer orders the driver to provide a blood, breath, or urine test. Also, police officers are using saliva drug test which can detect THC, meth, methadone, cocaine, and several other prescription medications. Meanwhile in Canada, Police are currently testing roadside oral fluid drug screening devices. If suspected, drivers are asked to undergo a Standardized Field Sobriety Test (SFST).

When can you be charged with DUI?

In Canada, 1,000 out of 50,000 DUI charges are laid for driving under the influence of drugs each year whereas 50,000 people are arrested for drunk driving. Currently, you can be charged with a DUI if you were in control of a vehicle, even if you weren’t driving it. You can be charged with a DUI by either having a blood alcohol concentration at or over 0.080%, or by showing signs of impairment. In the USA, about 1,000,000 people are charged for drunk driving. Similar to Canadian laws, you’re considered a DUI offender and can be charged if your blood alcohol level is found to be above 0.08%.

What are the penalties for impaired driving?

For drunk driving in Canada, penalties range from monetary fines to jail (A $1000 fine + 12-month driving prohibition to 120 days in jail + 36-month driving prohibition) depending on whether there are previous sentences, but your license is often suspended. However, it can be reclaimed under certain conditions.  If a person is physically harmed, maximum jail sentence is 10 years. If a person is killed, maximum sentence is life in prison. Meanwhile in the USA, the penalties for a DUI, DWI and OWI (operating while intoxicated) vary by state and jurisdiction. For a first or second offence, the penalties include: fines up to $5,000, loss of (or serious restrictions on) one’s driver’s license for 3-6 months possible jail time. As for drug-impaired driving, in Colorado the first conviction penalties are 9 month license suspension, 5 days to 1 year in jail, 48-96 hours of public service and fine up to $1000.

How to defend against DUI charges?

DUI charges can be defended or withdrawn with an experienced criminal lawyer who is familiar with police procedures and providing evidence against allegations. Call us now at 416-735-9091 to find out where you stand on any and all possible driving offence charges you may be facing.

Source: Impaired Driving Lawyer Toronto – Top Ontario DUI Lawyers

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