• Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD, claimed cannabis is the main cause of death on Canadian roadways
  • Evidence suggests there is no validity to this claim
  • Edmonton Police reported less than 100 incidents involving cannabis-impaired drivers in 2018

The CEO of a non-profit anti-drink driving organisation caused outrage last week, claiming cannabis was the main cause of death on Canadian roadways.

Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada, told CTV News that “cannabis presence is the leading cause of fatalities on our roadways. Not only in Ontario but right through Canada.”

However, MADD’s own press release contradicts Murie’s claims.

According to MADD, in 2014 road crashes claimed an estimated 2,297 lives:

  • 299 deaths, or 13%, occurred in crashes involving individuals who were positive for alcohol alone.
  • 618 deaths, or 26.9%, occurred in crashes involving individuals who were positive for drugs alone.
  • 356 deaths, or 15.5%, occurred in crashes involving individuals who were positive for both alcohol and drugs.

MADD added that: “cannabis, the most commonly found drug, is present in almost half of the drug-positive fatal crashes,” meaning that cannabis was found in about 484 fatalities (45%) of all fatalities involving drugs or alcohol.

From these figures alone, it would seem that MADD’s statement, that cannabis is the leading cause of fatalities on the road, is correct.

However, this must be taken as a correlation, not causation, something MADD addresses:

“…it must be emphasized that the figures document the presence of alcohol and/or drugs and not whether the individual was legally impaired.

“While research indicates that most of the alcohol-positive individuals were likely impaired or very impaired, there is no comparable information on the drug-positive drivers.”

Police can detect THC in saliva for roughly 24 hours after it is consumed, although some tests can detect its presence for a longer period of time.

MADD advises on its website that experienced cannabis users wait a “minimum of four hours” before driving.

While THC can be detected for up to 24 hours (or longer), it does not necessarily mean that the driver is impaired.

Again, despite Murie’s claims, MADD actually acknowledges this point. In their “Cannabis and Driving” section, they state:

“Researchers note, and MADD Canada recognizes, that the simple presence of cannabis does not mean a driver is impaired.

“…roadside surveys often find levels of cannabis high enough to impact driving ability.”

…cannabis presence is the leading cause of fatalities on our roadways. Not only in Ontario but right through Canada.
– Andrew Murie, CEO of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) Canada

However, roadside tests are not admissible in Canadian courts, rendering them useless as evidence.

Going off MADD’s own data and admissions, it is fair to say that Murie’s claims about cannabis being the “leading cause of fatalities” on Canadian roadways should be taken with a pinch of salt. There just isn’t enough verifiable evidence to support his claims.

From MADD’s own data, the finger should be pointed squarely at alcohol.

Canada actually has the worst drunk driving death rates among wealthy nations, making Murie’s claims seem farfetched.

While there isn’t evidence to support Murie’s claims, there is anecdotal evidence that Canada does have a problem with high-driving.

According to Statistics Canada’s most recent National Cannabis Survey:

  • 14% of Canadian cannabis users reported driving one or more times within two hours of using cannabis in the past three months
  • 5% of Canadians reported being a passenger in a vehicle driven by someone who had consumed cannabis within the previous two hours.

One of the issues with drug driving reports is they grouped all drugs, including cannabis, under one umbrella classification.

Some institutions are now adapting their methods to meet new demands in a post-legalised cannabis Canada.

The Edmonton Police Service (EPS) now flag reported incidents as being “cannabis impaired,” as opposed to the old “drugs” or “alcohol” classifications.

In 2018, an EPS Commission report found less than 100 instances of drivers impaired by cannabis in 2018; a far more accurate representation of cannabis.

While there is evidence that driving under the influence of cannabis can lead to crashes, sometimes fatal, but claims like Murie’s, that cannabis is the leading cause of these fatalities should be challenged with accurate reporting.   

References and further Reading