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Ottawa Police Department Rejects Roadside Cannabis Test Kits

The police department in Canada’s capital will not be using the newly approved roadside cannabis tests.

A.J. Herrington

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Ottawa Police Department Rejects Roadside Cannabis Test Kits
Jamie McCaffrey/ Wikimedia Commons

Police in the city of Ottawa, Ontario, will not be using a roadside drug-testing machine once cannabis is legalized in Canada next month. The federal government recently approved the Dräger DrugTest 5000 for use by police departments across the country.

The DrugTest 5000, manufactured by German manufacturer Dräger with U.S. operations based in Irving, Texas, hit the market in 2009 and is currently in use in about a dozen U.S. states, as well as in Europe and Australia. A California judge in 2016 found the machines to be scientifically reliable in a vehicular manslaughter case.

The DrugTest 5000 tests oral swabs for cannabinoids, opiates, amphetamines, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and methadone. The devices are rechargeable and portable, weighing in at about 10 pounds and approximately the size of a home coffee maker.

Pricey Tech

But Ottawa Chief of Police Charles Bordeleau told the CBC that his department will not be using the device, citing cost concerns and other problems.

“From a cost perspective, they’re $6,000 each. The issue around keeping the swabs at a right temperature is problematic in our current climate,” Bordeleau said.

The chief also said that regulations requiring departments to implement the test immediately would make the cost prohibitive.

“Once we buy one, we have to equip each police cruiser with one of these devices and that’s not practical at this time,” Bordeleau said.

Instead of the machines, Bordeleau said his department will invest further in training more officers as drug recognition experts. Drivers suspected of impairment by patrol officers are taken to one of these specially trained officers for an assessment. Const. Amy Gagnon, one of the drug recognition experts, said the process includes 12 steps including tests for cognitive and physical signs of impairment.

“We’re taking blood pressure, we’re checking your heart rate, your body temperature, because drugs — not just THC, we have seven categories of drugs — play with your neurotransmitters. They actually do a lot to the body,” she said.

Does Cannabis Use Equal Impairment?

But the DrugTest 5000 only tests for the presence of THC and other drugs in a person’s system. Marilyn Huestis, who researched cannabis with the National Institute on Drug Abuse for 20 years, told Science Daily that the presence of THC can’t gauge impairment.

“There is no one blood or oral fluid concentration that can differentiate impaired and not impaired,” said Huestis. “It’s not like we need to say, ‘Oh, let’s do some more research and give you an answer.’ We already know. We’ve done the research.”

That research is continuing at the University of California San Diego Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research. Tom Marcotte, co-director of the center, told local media that they are trying to determine how the use of cannabis affects the ability to drive.

“If you smoked this morning are you impaired throughout the day? Are you impaired for a couple of hours? Or are you not impaired? We’re trying to answer that,” said Marcotte.

Machine Will Face Scrutiny In Canada

In Canada, legal analysts believe that the use of the DrugTest 5000 will not go unchallenged. Kyla Lee, a Vancouver defense attorney that specializes in impaired driving cases, believes that the machine will not survive constitutional review by the courts because the decision to use it is often made arbitrarily.

“Unlike alcohol, where you can smell liquor on somebody’s breath or see evidence of consumption in other ways, cannabis is different,” she said.

“There are going to be numerous court challenges across the country to this,” Lee added.

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