Technology hasn’t caught up to cannabis laws, Edmonton police say

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EDMONTON—With a little more than three weeks to go before marijuana becomes legal from coast to coast, Edmonton police say new technology for detecting impaired drivers hasn’t quite caught up with the legislation.

Drivers who smoke and drive could soon find themselves veering into untested territory, as law enforcement hashes out how to test for impairment.

Although the federal government earlier this summer approved a roadside device called the Drager DrugTest 5000 — which measures THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive compound found in cannabis) — amphetamines, and cocaine levels in saliva, Edmonton police are still undecided about whether they’ll order the testers.

“The laws are still ahead of the technology at this time,” said Sgt. Rob Davis with the Edmonton Police Service’s impaired driving unit. He added police are in the process of evaluating the device and will be making a decision on purchasing it in the coming weeks.

He said that for now, EPS is training its officers to do what they’ve always done — conduct Standardized Field Sobriety Tests, which involve officers testing drivers on their ability to walk and turn in a straight line and stand on one leg, as well as checking their eyes.

“It’s a quick, fast test that’s done right at the roadside, and if someone passes this test, it would be just like they provided a sample into an approved screening device,” Davis said.

If a motorist fails the test, the individual is transported to a police station to meet with a drug recognition expert, who will evaluate their state. A toxicology sample, either through blood or urine, would be taken afterwards, Davis said. If a motorist fails all the tests, charges would then be laid.

Davis said Edmonton police set aside $300,000 earlier this year for the Drager devices, but are unsure about purchasing them as they can only detect cannabis and cocaine consumption, Davis said. An ideal oral fluid testing device, he said, would detect other types of drugs as well.

Another issue with the Drager device, Davis said, is its functionality in cold climates. Most oral fluid testing devices have a built-in internal heater, but they are temperature-sensitive, posing a challenge during Edmonton’s cold winter months.

James O’Hara, president of Canadians for Fair Access to Medical Marijuana, said he applauds EPS’s decision to hold off purchasing oral fluid testing devices.

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