As we draw closer to the legalization of marijuana, the government is starting to close the gap on enforcing the new impaired driving laws.

Upon receiving advice from an independent committee including both toxicologists and traffic safety experts, Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould has given a 30-day notice of a ministerial order to approve a device to be used in roadside saliva testing.

The Drager Drug Test 5000 is the device under review and is set to be if approved, distributed countrywide as Canada’s first roadside saliva testing kit.

The non-invasive testing kits will allow police officers to swab a drivers mouth to test for the presence of THC, the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

In addition to testing for THC, the device will also be able to test for other commonly abused substances including cocaine and also be able to evaluate unknown substances on-the-spot by collecting a small sample with the surface sampling kit, which is able to produce immediate results.

Currently, officers use standardized field sobriety tests (SFST) to check for drug-impaired drivers, this evaluation includes three psycho-physical tests: Horizontal Gaze Nystagmus (HGN) Test; Walk and Turn Test; One Leg Stand Test. According to Jennifer Graham, senior communications consultant for the Ministry of Justice, stated that in addition to the SFST, the new saliva tests will aid the police officers, “to determine if there are reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed.”

If a driver fails either of the tests, it then gives officers reasonable grounds to perform further testing including a blood test or to be observed and examined by a Drug Recognition Evaluator (DRE).

Although it is nothing new to check drivers for impairment, with the legalization of marijuana on the horizon the government is implementing a roll-out in operation for both drug recognition and SFST to add to officers already trained.

“Not all officers will be trained, however, but every area of the province will be covered by those that will be trained,” said Graham. Highway Patrol officers will also be included in the SFST training to better equip themselves when testing drivers for sobriety.

Currently, in our province, there are 74 DRE’s and Graham said they will be looking to add 20 to 40 new officers trained each year.

There has been much speculation regarding the efficacy of the saliva test for THC as many have argued the science of how THC is metabolized within the body. It is a substance that is fat soluble, meaning that is easily stored in fat cells and therefore has a long elimination half-life. The aforementioned drug test that's up for approval claims to detect drug use within approximately a six-hour time-frame.

In a report from Stats Canada, our system for convicting high drivers fails nearly half of the time. Also in a recent article, Ralph Goodale, Canada’s minister of public safety was quoted in a statement he made saying that more research in this area is “critical,” but new saliva tests will help officers determine if someone has used drugs recently. He also was quoted saying that DRE’s are “valid and reliable,” however, in the same review eluded to DRE’s only having a “modest degree of accuracy”, between 43 and 62%.

When the above information was presented to Graham she responded by saying, “Drug recognition evaluations have been accepted by Canadian courts as legally binding evidence in impaired driving cases for many years. Ongoing training for police and prosecutors will be conducted and this may increase the conviction rate.”

Over a five-year time frame, the federal government will be making $81 million available for provinces and territories to buy devices and to train officers in drug recognition. The federal government is not relying solely on the new roadside tests to crack down on drug-impaired driving, they have also budgeted a $62.5 million, five-year public education strategy including advertising campaigns.

At this time there has been no final determination made on how many roadside saliva kits will be distributed throughout the province but more details will become available as we draw closer to the October 17 legalization date.

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