Use of roadside saliva tests for cannabis impairment remain in question

Drager DrugTest 5000 remains the only technology approved by Ottawa to test saliva for THC concentration

Michelle Gray says she’s afraid to get behind the wheel again after having her licence suspended for failing a cannabis saliva test in Nova Scotia, even though she passed a police administered sobriety test the same night.

Gray has been using medical marijuana for almost eight years to treat multiple sclerosis and she plans to launch a constitutional challenge to the law and roadside test.

“They should not be on the streets and used for testing cannabis impairment,” said Gray, who lives in Sackville. “I think the government legalized cannabis way too fast. I don’t think it was a well thought out plan.”

Six months after legalization, her case illustrates some of the challenges with enforcement facing both police and cannabis users, and highlights the questions that continue to surround the use of technology in roadside tests.

The Drager DrugTest 5000 remains the only technology approved by Ottawa to test a driver’s saliva for concentration of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Einat Velichover, who manages drug and alcohol detection in Canada for Drager, said the saliva test was never designed to test for impairment.

“Our device is there to really just identify whether there’s a presence of THC. It’s not meant to measure impairment and we never claimed that it does,” she said.

“So really it’s just one tool of many that law enforcement utilize in order to assess impairment and road safety.”

Velichover said that while she appreciates the concerns that have arisen, law enforcement needs to balance cannabis users’ rights with the importance of keeping roads safe.

Justice Department spokeswoman Angela Savard said the Canadian Society of Forensic Science tests and evaluates technology then recommends it to the attorney general for consideration.

If a driver fails the roadside test, the result can be used in developing “reasonable grounds” to believe that a drug-impaired driving offence has occurred and also give the officer grounds to investigate further, she said.

“It is important to note that investigating drug-impaired driving is not exclusively dependent on a drug screener,” she said in an email.

READ MORE: Nova Scotia woman plans constitutional challenge of roadside cannabis test

READ MORE: 10 things still illegal in the new age of recreational cannabis

As of Oct. 1, there were more than 13,000 law enforcement officers trained in standardized field sobriety testing and 833 officers trained as drug recognition experts across Canada, she said. Further training is underway.

Savard said the department expects more technology to be recommended and approved in the future, but couldn’t comment on ongoing evaluations.

Some police departments are declining to use the saliva test.

“For the most part, in British Columbia, police departments have not deployed it. Several departments have a Drager 5000 that we can use and test but we’re all a little bit wary,” said Chief Const. Mike Serr of the Abbotsford Police Department.

Serr said many departments are waiting to get a better sense of the test’s value and are concerned charges could be thrown out if it is challenged in court.

“We’re concerned on how that potentially could play out,” said Serr, who is also the co-chair of the drug policy committee with the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

“It doesn’t give us the quantitative analysis so it really doesn’t provide us much extra beyond what a drug recognition expert can provide us with. So at this point, the practical uses of the tool haven’t really been proven to us.”

In the meantime, he said anecdotal reports from departments suggest the increased training seems to be resulting in a slight increase in drug-impaired driving charges since legalization. In Abbotsford, 30 per cent of frontline police officers are now trained in standardized field sobriety testing and all members of the traffic unit are drug recognition experts.

“That’s something that wasn’t done pre-legalization,” he said.

But as impaired driving continues to be a reality, others say they want to see saliva testing tools used more often.

Eric Dumschat, legal director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Canada, said the organization is hoping more technology gets approved and rolled out.

“We had expected there would have been more devices approved by this point and hopefully in the longer run, the technology is able to be improved. In an ideal world, we would have the equivalent of the breathalyzer, but alcohol is a very simple molecule compared with THC,” he said.

He said while testing bodily fluids is important to indicate recent use, the increase in sobriety and drug recognition training is better for identifying impairment and has been making roads safer.

“In regards to enforcement, I think it’s going about as well as it can be,” he said.

Amy Smart, The Canadian Press

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Just Posted

Sylvan Lake man appears in court for death of his wife

Satnam Singh Sandhu appeared in Red Deer Provincial Court Wednesday morning

Sylvan Lake man charged with wife’s murder

Satnam Singh Sandhu, 41, will appear in Red Deer Provincial Court on Sept. 18

Eckville River Run sprinting into fifth year

St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church is hosting the annual event along the Medicine River on Sept. 28

Sylvan Lake Terry Fox Run sees largest turnout ever

The annual run took a new course, starting at Lighthouse Park, going along Lakeshore to Jarvis Bay

VIDEO: Trudeau asks Canada to look to current, not past, actions on race

Liberal leader says he never spoke about the racist photo because he was embarrassed

Trudeau seeks meeting with Singh to apologize for blackface, brownface photos

‘I will be apologizing to him personally as a racialized Canadian,’ Trudeau said Friday

Charges stayed against Alberta RCMP officer in alleged off-duty Whistler assault

Const. Vernon Hagen instead completed an alternative measures program

‘Unacceptable’: What politicians have to say about Trudeau in blackface

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi: ‘When I saw that picture last night, certainly it was a sucker-punch’

Judge finds Alberta couple not guilty in toddler son’s death

It was the second trial for the Stephans, who were found guilty by a jury in 2016

Alberta couple charged in toddler son’s death to learn fate from judge

David and Collet Stephan are charged with failing to provide the necessaries of life

Alberta government pitching that small rural areas pay for policing: NDP

Those 291 districts represent about 20 per cent of the Alberta population

Alberta inquiry into oil and gas foes could face legal challenge from Ecojustice

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has repeatedly accused U.S. charities of bankrolling efforts

Yearbook photo surfaces of Trudeau wearing ‘brownface’ costume in 2001

The report describes the occasion as an ‘Arabian Nights’-themed gala event

Most Read