A candle is lit on behalf of the victims of impaired drivers at a service Sunday at Kelowna’s Laurel building. Lighting the candle was Eva Gainor, who lost her husband and a son to a drunk driver in 2000.

Crashes caused by drivers high on pot are likely to spike after the drug is legalized next summer, MADD Canada says.

American states that have already approved the use of marijuana have seen sharp increases in fatal accidents in which a driver was impaired by the drug, MADD’s western region manager for chapter services said Sunday.

“That’s certainly been the experience in Washington state and Colorado, and we will probably see an increase in deaths and injuries related to cannabis use here after it’s legalized next July,” Tracy Crawford said after a MADD-hosted candlelight vigil for victims of impaired driving.

In Washington state, fatal crashes among drivers who tested positive for marijuana doubled from eight per cent in 2013 to 17 per cent in 2014, according to Dr. Chris Rumball, a Nanaimo doctor who wrote an article on the subject last year for the B.C. Medical Journal.

Rumball also said that, in Colorado, the number of drivers in fatal crashes who tested positive for pot without other drugs in their system tripled between 2005 and 2014, from 3.4 per cent to 12.1 per cent.

A U.S. study from the Highway Loss Data Institute says collision claim rates before and after legalization of marijuana are up 16 per cent in Colorado, 6.2 per cent in Washington state and 4.5 per cent in Oregon.

MADD Canada, which has long warned about the dangers of driving while impaired by alcohol, is particularly concerned about people who’ve never tried pot before getting behind the wheel when the drug is legalized, Crawford said.

Although impaired driving rates have dropped by two-thirds since the mid-1980s, according to Statistics Canada, it is still the leading cause of criminal death in Canada.

At Sunday’s vigil, held at the Laurel building in downtown Kelowna, candles were lit for people who’ve been killed by impaired drivers.

“These are senseless losses because they didn’t have to happen,” MADD Canada president Patricia Hynes-Coates told the approximately 15 people who attended the event.

Hynes-Coates’ stepson Nicholas was killed by a drunk driver in August 2013 in a crash that happened at 11:17 a.m.

“We hope to see one day that we no longer have to have candlelight vigils because we have eradicated impaired driving,” Hynes-Coates said.

As she has at other MADD events, Kelowna resident Eva Gainer spoke of the pain and heartbreak of losing her husband and a son to a drunk driver in 2000.

Gainer said she was somewhat grateful she doesn’t recall the accident, as she has no memory of the pain and suffering her loved ones experienced before they died.

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