Driving high: Cannabis edibles legalization and car insurance

Tyler Wade
by Tyler Wade December 13, 2019 / No Comments

The Canadian government announced in October the second wave of cannabis legalization, when it OK’d the manufacture and consumption of edibles across the country. So, what does this mean for drivers and their insurance?

If you drive while high on weed, read on. First, know that home insurance providers are adopting to in-home growers and the associated risks of theft and fire. Health and life insurance providers are adapting with demand soaring for medicinal purposes.

Auto insurers are evaluating risks a little differently. Originally, the big news was that crash rates increased in areas where marijuana was made legal. Colorado drivers saw a 50% hike in premiums.

Why will this affect my car insurance rate?

If you’re driving high, either from edibles or smoking, you’ll face a driving under the influence (DUI) charge, the same as if you had been caught drunk driving. That’s a major offence that could have major legal implications. 

They also impact your car insurance; if you get a DUI, expect to pay much higher insurance rates. 

Even if you shop around for car insurance quotes, a DUI will stay on your record for three years after the conviction date and the quotes will reflect that.

Drivers in Ontario, for example, can expect their premiums to increase between $5,000 and $8,000 per year following a DUI. 

If you’re in a collision, your insurer doesn’t have to pay for loss or damage to the vehicle while under the influence of “intoxicating substances”. Essentially, you’re voiding your insurance.

Edible legalization

First, for the uninitiated, what are edibles? Edible is an umbrella term for cannabis-infused products that can be ingested by the consumer. Think chocolates, candies, beverages, and baked (no pun intended) goods. 

Originally, these products were outlawed when the government first legalized the sale and consumption of cannabis products but, as of this past fall, they’ve now been legalized with the first expected sales to happen any day now. 

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On edibles and car insurance

The first — and most important — thing you need to know about edibles and driving is that the same rules apply as other, more traditional, forms of cannabis consumption. Simply put, that means don’t do it. 

“Drugs can impair your ability to drive safely and increase the risk of getting into a collision. In fact, cannabis increases your chance of a car accident,” according to the Canadian Government. “The percentage of Canadian drivers killed in vehicle crashes who test positive for drugs (40%) now actually exceeds the numbers who test positive for alcohol (33%).”

Cannabis consumption can affect your motor skills, slow your reaction time, and reduce your ability to make quick decisions, among other effects. 

Sixty-five per cent of Canadians agree cannabis users often fail to recognize that cannabis impairs their ability to drive, according to a 2017 study conducted by Public Safety Canada. 

And young Canadians are at higher risk of having a motor vehicle accident even five hours after inhaling cannabis, according to a McGill University Health Centre clinical trial.

Those who imbibe in edible cannabis need to be especially careful because the effects can be delayed and powerful. So, getting behind the wheel after ingesting cannabis, even if the user doesn’t yet feel the effects, could have disastrous consequences when the drug kicks in.

And, while it’s obviously dangerous, it’s also illegal. 

Drug-impaired driving is illegal in Canada and has been since 1925. Driving while under the influence could result in jail time, criminal charges, license suspensions, and fines. 

How will the police detect drug-impaired drivers?

If the police suspect you’re under the influence, they can pull you over. The first step is a 12-step process conducted by a “drug recognition expert” but this, of course, is fraught with biases and false positives. Roadside saliva-testing devices are approved under bill C-46 which passed in June of 2018.

These tests only detect cannabis use within the past 6-8 hours. The reliability of these machines, and their results, are sure to see challenges in court. A Vancouver based company, Cannabix Technologies, created a portable breathalyzer machine to detect marijuana use.

What can I do to prevent an auto insurance rate hike?

First, know that your own driving is only one factor in calculating your insurance premium. Your driving profile is the first thing insurers consider when determining the rate you will pay. For instance, you’ll pay more if you’re a young driver, as age is statistically a measure of risk.

In fact, car insurance rate calculations are based on the  car you drive, how much you drive, and even your address. If your neighbourhood sees an increase in marijuana-related accidents, expect to see your insurance go up.

Right now, much like alcohol, there is no question on the insurance application that asks if you smoke or ingest cannabis. But, understand if you’re caught driving high, it will be on your driving history. If you try switching car insurance providers, they will see that history and charge you accordingly.

What if I’m medically allowed to smoke cannabis?

If you carry a medical marijuana card, it’s up to the officer’s discretion if they deem you to be intoxicated or not, and will proceed accordingly. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration while many alcohol-induced drivers tend to overestimate their abilities to get behind the wheel. The same studies show that pot smokers will underestimate their abilities leading to slower driving and more room between vehicles.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Public Health Association says, “while more cautious hyper-focused driving sounds good, it also means you live in the moment with slow reactions to changing situations.”

Can I get a DUI charge from driving high?

The short answer is, yes. As a best practice, we recommend making alternative transportation plans if you plan to use legalized drugs and alcohol. Remember if you are convicted, there will be legal repercussions, such as fines and imprisonment. As a result, you may be a high-risk driver. If so, your insurance premiums will go up.

How can I find the best car insurance rates to suit my needs?

As always, at Ratehub.ca, we encourage you to shop around and compare car insurance quotes from multiple insurers. Always be honest on your application or you run the risk of a denied claim. In fact, your policy risks cancellation due to what the insurance industry calls ‘material misrepresentation of facts’. Be a safe driver (I.e. don’t smoke and drive), look for bundles, and see if your employer, or union, has any discounts with an insurance company.

What to do if you’ve ingested an edible

Use the same rules of thumb if you’re smoking or ingesting cannabis or drinking alcohol and need to get somewhere; have a designated driver, call a friend or family member to pick you up, take transit, or call a cab or Uber (or Lyft, if that’s your preference).

The Bottom Line

Every insurance provider has a secret sauce for how they calculate risk and determine your rate. Could they potentially charge a higher premium to a person working in the industry, at a clinic, or a manufacturing plant? What if you have a prescription and they choose to view it negatively? It’s possible, some insurers openly provide policy coverage for medicinal use cases and charge a premium for it. Only time will tell.

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