In June, the Canadian government approved Bill C-45, making Canada the second country in the world to legalize cannabis for adult use. But right on the bill’s heels was another, Bill C-46, which also passed in June. Whereas Bill C-45 legalizes cannabis, Bill C-46 dramatically overhauls Canada’s impaired driving laws. The overhaul of the Criminal Code addresses the sweeping national changes brought by cannabis legalization and establishes how law enforcement will handle drivers whom they suspect are under the influence of THC. And now, Canadian police have a new tool toward in their arsenal to do just that: a roadside saliva drug test, which the federal government just approved.
Canada Is Significantly Changing Its Impaired Driving Laws
How legal cannabis impacts traffic safety is a top concern for officials in Canada. Yet the influence of cannabis on a person’s ability to drive remains difficult to determine. Even more so is a police officer’s ability to tell if a driver is under the influence of THC or not.
Currently, officers in Canada rely on conventional field sobriety tests to judge the impairment of drivers whom they suspect are high. And as part of their rules and regulations for legal cannabis, provinces have made additional resources available to train police as drug recognition experts.
Overall, the Canadian government is spending $62.5 million over five years to combat drug-impaired driving. Still, determining cannabis intoxication is hard. And the fact that THC levels in the blood are not a good indication of intoxication further complicates drug testing drivers.
As such, law enforcement has been on the hunt for a device that could reliably test saliva for drugs. And as part of the government’s amendments to the impaired driving laws, they’re going to get one.
Will Roadside Saliva Test Be Ready When Legal Cannabis Sales Begin?
The Draeger DrugTest 5000, a German-manufactured roadside saliva drug test device, will allow Canadian police to swab a driver’s mouth and test for the presence of THC immediately. The Draeger can also check for cocaine.
Approval to use roadside saliva drug tests was built into Bill C-46. But Canada’s Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould just gave final approval to use the Draeger device specifically. Wilson-Raybould approved the device after an independent panel of traffic safety experts and toxicologists weighed in on the test’s effectiveness.
Public Safety Canada conducted a pilot program of roadside drug test devices with police last year. The pilot program concluded that such devices were helpful for law enforcement. But the Draeger 5000 was not one of the devices piloted. However, the Draeger 5000 is already in use in Germany and the UK.
Wilson-Rabould’s approval of the roadside saliva drug test device comes well ahead of officials’ estimation. Many thought a device would not be ready until next year. But the approval of the Draeger 5000 could mean police will be able to conduct mouth swab drug tests on drivers as soon as legal cannabis sales begin in October.
Expect Legal Challenges To Roadside Saliva Drug Test Results
The Canadian government is making a major investment in devices to test for drug-impaired driving. In fact, $81 million will be available over five years to buy drug testing devices and train officers in their use.
Despite official confidence in the devices, their results will likely face multiple legal challenges from defense lawyers. The reliability of tests that check for the presence of THC is always a question. And unlike alcohol, the presence of THC doesn’t always indicate intoxication.
However, Bill C-46 allows police to charge a driver with drug-impaired driving based solely on the presence of THC. Officers, in other words, do not have to prove actual impairment. But police will still need reasonable grounds of suspected drug activity to issue a roadside saliva drug test.
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