#dontdrivehigh: Feds drug awareness campaign ahead of legalizing pot

#Don't drive high.  The federal government hopes that simple slogan coupled with some tougher laws will curb any increase in impaired driving.

The Liberals are set to legalize recreational marijuana next summer and can't help but see what's happening down south.

Much like the drinking and driving campaigns, this one is graphic and geared towards young people. 

It's what Colorado and Washington have done; two of the first states to legalize recreational pot.

But they have seen an increase in people who were killed while driving high.

The public awareness campaign starts off with a car full of young people enjoying a good time, lots of laughs, some crazy selfies.  Added in this mix, though, is a driver high on pot.  The car slams into something and glass and people fly everywhere.

This $3 million dollar campaign is aimed at young people, aged 16 to 24.  It's the Liberal government's latest weapon in the war against driving while impaired as it sets to legalize recreational marijuana in July.

Ralph Goodale is the federal Public Safety Minister, “There has not been up to now a concerted effort to zero in on drug issues, whether it is cannabis and other drugs that cause impairment.”

The government unveiled its new campaign at Carleton University today.  It is called “Don’t Drive High, but statistics suggest that many Canadians are doing just that.

According to a report entitled “Public Opinion Research on Drug Impaired Driving: Baseline Survey Findings Report” which was recently prepared by EKOS Research Associates for Public Safety Canada, more than 1 in 5  young people who uses cannabis has driven while impaired and 1 in 3 has ridden in a vehicle with a driver who was high.

“Yeah, sometimes you can't tell if someone is high or not,” says one Carleton student on her way to class.

“I think it's a bad thing they smoke and drive,” says another student, “but they will still do it because it is part of their lifestyle, right?”

Some say you just need to look south, to Colorado, for instance, where recreational marijuana was legalized 3 years ago. According to analysis of data and coroner’s reports, it has seen a doubling in the number of fatal crashes involving drivers high on pot.

“When we see some of the impacts from partners in the south and what's happening down there,” says Chief Superintendent Chuck Cox with the OPP, “of course we're concerned and we're doing our best to be prepared.”

The Liberals government has committed $161 million dollars for training and new frontline officers to access screening devices like drug recognition machines. The challenge, many believe, will be convincing a specific cohort of marijuana users who still believe they drive as well, if not better when they're high. 

Patricia Hynes-Coates is with MADD Canada and lost her son to an impaired driver in 2013. She says she is the voice now for people like her son Nicholas and speaks to those who drive while impaired.

“You need to stop and think it is your life on the line but everyone else's too,” she says, “and how would you feel if you had to put your loved one in the cold ground because of your selfish decision?”