EDMONTON – Drug-impaired driving has become a growing issue for law enforcement across the country and the Liberal government’s plan to legalize marijuana next spring may compound the problem.
“There is a rise in drug-impaired driving. It might even be surpassing alcohol-impaired driving at this point,” Constable Kyla Currie, the Alberta Provincial Coordinator for the RCMP’s Drug Evaluation and Classification Program, said.
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Drug and alcohol-impairment are tracked under one category by the RCMP in Alberta. However, according to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse (CCSA), almost as many drivers died in road crashes after using drugs as those who had been drinking.
“Down in the south here, we see a lot of cannabis as the drug of choice. Also, a lot of antidepressants. Central nervous system depressants are relevant – a lot of people don’t realize that they can take that medication and be under the influence of a drug,” Currie said.
Offenders are also subject to criminal code charges.
“[With] Alcohol, we know what we’re dealing with. It’s a commodity that people understand. They know what the legal limit is, what the limit of impairment is and we haven’t got that far yet with marijuana,” Clive Weighill, president of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, said.
Weighill, who is also the chief of the Saskatoon Police Service, said he is waiting to hear the full extent of the plan from the federal government.
“We don’t know how the regulatory framework will be set up. The prime minister said there will be a regulatory framework about who can grow it, who can sell it and who can buy it.”
“We don’t have an instrument to measure impaired, so it’s not like dealing with somebody who’s been pulled over for alcohol-related offences. So we need some type of instrument that the courts will accept that will show what the level of impairment is.”
In Alberta, if there is any suspicion a driver may be impaired by a drug, a standard field sobriety test could be done. However, there have been calls for devices and measures beyond that.
In July 2008, revisions to the Criminal Code of Canada were made. Police are now able to demand that a suspected drug-impaired driver submit to a drug influence evaluation and provide a sample of blood, urine or saliva to test.
Recently, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the Canadian Society of Forensic Science’s Drugs and Driving Committee (DDC) collaborated on a research project. They tested three roadside oral fluid drug-screening devices.
They are similar to Approved Screening Devices (ASD) used to detect alcohol. Legislative changes would need to be made before such devices could be approved for use in Canada.
With testing now complete, the RCMP and its project partners have turned their gaze towards conducting additional tests of the devices in an operational setting to see how they could be used by active members of law enforcement.
Colorado State Patrol has been in the midst of a three-year pilot project. Marijuana was legalized there in 2014.
Law enforcement there have also been trying out oral screening fluid testing.
“What I recommend to anybody is to start gathering your data now if you’re even thinking about it because it’s hard to go back in time and gather something that you didn’t identify to gather,” Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Eldridge with the Colorado State Patrol said.
Eldridge said they have been working with the department of transportation to educate the public on the dangers associated with drug-impaired driving.
“Impairment is impairment and educating the public that just because marijuana is legal, doesn’t mean you can drive legally.”