Government officials in Ontario say they are adopting a “zero tolerance” policy for young drivers who are caught under the influence on cannabis behind the wheel.

On Monday, Premier Kathleen Wynne said road safety will be a priority for the Ontario government once recreational cannabis use is legalized in Canada next July. She said those under the age 21, commercial drivers and new drivers will face harsher consequences if caught driving while high or drunk.

“We had a goal to balance the new freedom that people in Ontario will have to use cannabis recreationally with everyone’s expectation that it will be managed responsibly,” she said.

The provincial government sees cannabis legalization as an opportunity to strengthen drunk driving penalties – particularly among new drivers.

“We saw that in eight U.S. states where cannabis is legal those states have matched the legal age for using cannabis with the legal age for drinking alcohol — and so with that consultation under our belt we decided to move forward with that same model setting the age at 19,” said Wynne.

The penalties for cannabis-impaired driving will be similar to drunk-driving laws. For a first offence, young motorists — and all G1, G2, M1, and M2 licence holders — will be given a three-day suspension and a $250 fine. A second offence will mean a week-long suspension and a $350 fine with all subsequent occurrences penalized with a 30-day suspension and a $450 fine.

Commercial motorists will face three-day suspensions and fined up to $450. All other drivers found to be within the blood-alcohol concentrate range of between .05 and .08 will face suspensions of between three and 30 days and fines of up to $450. Those with blood-alcohol concentrate levels above .08 face a 90-day suspension and $550 fines.

“All of these measures are in addition to federal criminal charges for impaired driving, which ultimately could result in a loss of licence, additional fines, or jail time,” said Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca.

“Let me be clear: driving while impaired is not acceptable and will not be tolerated.”

While some are counting on impending oral-fluid road tests discouraging cannabis use by drivers, the tests – which examine THC levels in saliva – have yet to be approved by the federal government. Furthermore, their effectiveness – particularly in cold weather – remains unclear.

h/t Toronto Star