Driv­ing high

The Southern Gazette - - Editorial -

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.

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