With just under two months left before cannabis sales and possession become legal across the country, the federal government has finally approved a crucial tool for detecting cannabis-impaired drivers.
Last Monday, Aug. 27, the first roadside device to check drivers’ saliva for Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC - the main psychoactive compound in cannabis) was announced.
The device, the Drager DrugTest5000, is a key piece of the government’s drugs and driving legislation. The passage of Bill C-46 earlier this year allows police to demand a saliva sample, but until now, there wasn’t an approved piece of equipment to take that sample.
It’s a fact that there are already cannabisimpaired drivers on the road - a recent Statistics Canada survey found that five per cent of Canadians had been in a car where the driver had used the drug less than two hours before driving.
With the lack of an established and approved testing device, police officers use drug recognition expertise to judge whether or not to charge drivers with being impaired by a drug. Now, they can use the roadside test as a basis to demand further testing, including blood samples, to gauge the level of THC concentrations in a driver’s system.
There are bound to be challenges of the new equipment; the breathalyzer test for drunk drivers has been around for decades, but people charged with drunk driving challenge the equipment in court on almost a weekly basis, so the first few years of saliva testing for cannabis is bound to have its judicial ups and downs.
Still, having at least some sort of empirical standard to indicate potential impairment is better than having nothing more than a police officer’s educated opinion.
The Liberal government has promised a substantial amount of funding for police training and equipment to handle new drug-impaired driving cases - in total, $161 million over the next five years to both train and equip officers with drugtesting equipment.
Be ready for a learning curve in more ways than one. The Canadian Association of Police Chiefs had set a goal of having 2,000 officers trained and ready to spot drug impairment by the time cannabis legalization comes into force, but that’s a number they have since said they are unlikely to reach.
There will be new challenges, new jurisprudence and, no doubt, a whole new raft of excuses by drivers charged with offences. Driving a car is so integral to work and recreation that cases of drunk driving, with lots of jurisprudence and testing equipment, are still among the criminal charges that are most regularly challenged in court.
Expect nothing less from drug-impaired drivers.
Having an approved roadside testing device is at least a start, albeit a late one, given how soon legalization will take place.
You can’t build an effective legalized drug strategy without effective tools.