Saskatoon police show off new screening device for testing drug-impaired drivers – Saskatoon

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It’s a new tool to help law enforcement sniff out if someone’s high on drugs behind the wheel. The Dräger DrugTest 5000 has been distributed to six municipal police services and nine RCMP detachments in Saskatchewan as officers begin to train to use the device.

The Saskatoon Police Service (SPS) was issued its instrument approximately two weeks ago and held a show-and-tell to demonstrate how the machine works.


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“This is not an evidentiary device – so what that means is that this instrument is not the evidence that will convict someone or acquit them,” SPS Staff Sgt. Patrick Barbar said.

“It’s only to let officers know whether they need to go further with their investigation.”

In late August, the Dräger DrugTest 5000 was the first device approved in the country by the federal government to screen for drug-impaired drivers.

It will detect if someone has cannabis in their system as well as cocaine.

Here’s how it works: a saliva swab is collected from the person then popped into the machine. From there, it takes the instrument four minutes to analyze before the results blink on the screen and a paper record is printed off for documentation.

While it’s still unclear how much of a problem drug-impaired driving is on Saskatchewan roadways, Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI) spokesperson Tyler McMurchy said it’s reassuring to know there’s another mechanism to catch motorists that don’t plan for a safe ride home.

“It’s never been a worse time to be an impaired driver and it’s never been harder to get away with it.”


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Given the amount of time it takes to conduct a test and the limitation of the devices, Barbar said it’s likely they will only be used in the event where a field sobriety test isn’t an option, i.e. the motorist is in a cast, a lack of mobility or the individual has been hospitalized after a crash.

“Our goal is not to test as many drivers as possible on this instrument,” Barbar said.

“We plan to rely heavily still on the standardized field sobriety tests. The main reason for that is this detects two drugs, our standardized field sobriety detects a whole gamut of drugs.”

The Dräger DrugTest 5000.

File / Global News

In Norway, the number of drug-impaired drivers detected by police doubled with the device, but 10 per cent of the results were false positives. The instrument is sensitive when used in cold weather, it can’t be tilted and its reliability has been questioned.

SPS admitted it has never left the station, and the 10 people it was used on during its trial were completely sober.

“It’s the only approved instrument in Canada for what it does,” Barbar said.

“Everybody anticipates with this as with any new law that it will be challenged – that’s the nature of our court system, it’s adversarial.”


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The device cannot be administered at random – an officer will need reasonable grounds to conduct the test which was a concern among medicinal marijuana users.

If people refuse to provide a sample, police said it’s considered an offence that could have criminal consequences.

© 2019 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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Too high to drive? Enforcement of drug-impaired driving in Ontario could face roadblocks similar to those encountered in Colorado

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And a survey this year of more than 15,000 cannabis users in the state found that nearly 70 per cent of them had driven under the influence of marijuana at least once in the past year. Forty per cent of them said they didn’t think it affected their ability to drive.

“It was a signal that reaffirmed our suspicion that a lot of marijuana users drive after using marijuana. And that’s problematic,” says Sam Cole, a safety communications manager at the Colorado Department of Transportation.

It’s a worrying trend across the U.S., where 12 of every 100 weekend nighttime drivers involved in crashes between 2013 and 2014 tested positive for THC, up from 8.6 in 2007, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. As of this year, recreational marijuana is legal in nine states.

No one knows for sure whether legalization means more people will drive high on Ontario roads, yet rates of drug-impaired driving charges — not necessarily all cannabis-related — have increased here recently, according to Statistics Canada. They are still a fraction of alcohol-impaired charges.

But with Colorado seeing throwback attitudes about driving while under the influence of drugs — not unlike when people thought it was OK to drink and drive — police enforcement has become key.

“Until people aren’t driving impaired, we need to have a robust law-enforcement program that cracks down on drugged driving, just the way we have with alcohol,” Cole says. “Back in the 1980s when MADD started, and alcohol fatalities were sky high, and we started telling people don’t drive drunk, they were like, ‘Oh, I’m fine when I’m drunk. I’m a safer driver. I drive drunk all the time.’

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Next, officers attend a three- or four-day program in Jacksonville, Fla., one of a few locations where there are enough subjects from a nearby drug-dependence clinic who can provide the “volume and the breadth of drug diversity that we require,” says RCMP Sgt. Ray Moos, who is charge of the training.

There, an officer has to correctly assess 12 individuals and determine which category of drug — not only cannabis but drugs in other categories such as stimulants, depressants or hallucinogens — the subject is on.

The officer’s conclusions are then confirmed with a urine sample from the subject.

“It is a challenging course,” says Moos. “The course really assesses how drugs affect human physiology. Officers have to be competent with knowing a lot of different drugs and what category of drugs those drugs would fall under, and how those drugs affect the body.”

About two of the roughly 20 to 24 students in a class don’t pass, he says.

Here in Canada, the evaluations — which take 45 minutes — would be conducted at a police station after an arrest, which will occur based on what an officer sees or smells in the vehicle, from the state of the individual, or because of the results of the standardized field sobriety test, according to Moos.

Officers may also factor in the results of a roadside saliva test that can detect THC. Neither the RCMP nor the OPP have decided if or how they will deploy the devices, which can determine if the drug is present in the saliva but do not determine impairment. In Colorado, the saliva devices were tested earlier this year and the results of the tests will be released later this fall.

Drivers who are arrested may also be required to give a blood sample in accordance with the new legislation, although the RCMP says the “frequency with which this demand is used will be dependant on the jurisdiction in which the offence takes place and the mechanisms in place to facilitate a blood draw.”

Moos says that could mean a visit to a hospital emergency department or another setting, such as a medical clinic that has been authorized to draw blood. A suspected drug-impaired driver’s failure to comply “will result in criminal charges which carry the same penalty as driving while impaired,” says an RCMP spokesperson.

Jennifer Knudsen, traffic safety research prosecutor for Colorado, whose job is to help district attorneys throughout the state prosecute DUI cases for drugs and alcohol, says cannabis legalization has opened up a “whole new world.”

The DAs there not only have to be lawyers, she says, but medical experts, educating jurors on how THC impairs drivers because many of them don’t believe it does.

“Think about someone who is 25 and just graduated from law school and they may have never done a trial. And all of a sudden they have this case where they have to do the science and the law stuff,” she says. “It’s a huge challenge.”

The laws in Colorado around drug-impaired driving aren’t the same as in Canada. For instance, there’s no legal limit of THC concentration in the blood as there is here, where it’s five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood. Instead, Colorado has a “reasonable inference” law, which says that a judge has the discretion to instruct a jury that a defendant is incapable of driving safely with that level of THC in their blood. It’s not used all the time.

And in many cases, blood isn’t taken, says Knudsen. Testing is expensive and about 30 per cent of drivers refuse the request, willing instead to take administrative penalties such as a licence suspension. As well, there aren’t experts available in far-flung parts of the state to interpret the results of the blood analysis for a jury.

There is also the issue of just how quickly THC leaves the blood.

Knudsen says studies have shown that blood concentration can drop 60 per cent just 15 minutes after someone takes a puff of marijuana. And for some people, taking more than the recommended dose of 10 milligrams of an edible may not result in blood concentrations above five nanograms per millilitre. Results can also differ, she says, depending on whether someone is an occasional user or uses all the time and typically has a baseline concentration in their blood.

“When you’re talking about numbers, and drugs that aren’t alcohol, it’s very difficult,” she says.

Typically, the more someone drinks, the higher the concentration of alcohol in their blood. But THC concentrations fall so rapidly in the blood it is difficult to correlate them to impairment.

In cases involving cannabis, “you could have someone with 23 nanograms and that person is not guilty,” says Knudsen. “And you could have someone who has two nanograms and is guilty. It’s hard.”

But Knudsen says drug recognition expert evaluations are rare and the state, similar to Washington where cannabis has also been legalized, has one of the lowest rates of evaluations in the world.

She says it’s because many of the officers who have the training are in supervisory roles or not available because they’re not on duty. Or she says, there may be one drug recognition expert covering a large geographic area who can’t make it to a site in time to make the evaluation worthwhile.

“There’s a lot of hurdles,” says Knudsen. District attorneys who prosecute the cases rely on what officers observe — what they see and smell in the car, and on the behaviour of the driver at the window, as well as in the roadside sobriety tests.

“We have to put all of that together. And that really is the crux of the case,” says Knudsen. “If we have a DRE evaluation, then that is really the icing on the cake.”

Officers trained as drug recognition experts in Canada (as of Oct. 1, 2018):

N.W.T.: 4 (RCMP), 8.9 per 100,000 pop.

P.E.I.: 13 (6 RCMP, 7 municipal), 8.5 per 100,000 pop.

Sask.: 74 (36 RCMP, 38 municipal), 6.3 per 100,000 pop.

Nova Scotia: 61 (29 RCMP, 32 municipal), 6.4 per 100,000 pop.

Nfld./Labrador: 27 (15 RCMP, 12 municipal), 5.1 per 100,000 pop.

New Brunswick: 28 (13 RCMP, 15 municipal), 3.7 per 100,000 pop.

Manitoba: 42 (17 RCMP, 25 municipal), 3.1 per 100,000 pop.

Yukon: 1 (RCMP), 2.6 per 100,000 pop.

Alberta: 102 (42 RCMP, 60 municipal), 2.4 per 100,000 pop.

B.C.: 111 (75 RCMP, 36 municipal), 2.3 per 100,000 pop.

Ontario: 240 (5 RCMP, 78 provincial, 157 municipal), 1.7 per 100,000 pop.

Quebec: 130 (0 RCMP, 53 provincial, 77 municipal), 1.5 per 100,000 pop.

Nunavut: 0

Total: 833, 2.3 per 100,000 pop.

Source: RCMP

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Canada still short of police officers trained to spot drug-impaired drivers

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The number of police officers trained to recognize drug-impaired drivers is lagging far behind the number that police chiefs said would be needed after cannabis is made legal for recreational use nationwide on Oct. 17.

According to a senior government official, 833 Canadian police officers have been trained as drug recognition experts (DREs). That’s a far cry from the 2,000 the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said should be trained to fulfil the government’s push to crack down on drug-impaired drivers.

While the number of DRE-trained officers has increased by 50 per cent since last fall, government officials have said more work must be done to push that number higher.

Moreover, while the government has introduced three new criminal offences involving cannabis-impaired driving, they all require a positive blood test from a suspect before a Crown attorney can secure a conviction.

Right now, the vast majority of police forces across the country are not equipped to draw a blood sample at a police station or detachment. In fact, government officials said Friday they weren’t aware of a single police service in the country capable of drawing blood at a station or detachment.

Officials said police forces could tap federal funding to hire nurses or a technician to draw the samples they need.

The three new drug-related offences — now in effect after Bill C-46 passed Parliament in June — are for drivers who have consumed drugs within two hours of driving.

A driver found to have at least two nanograms, and less than five nanograms, of THC per millilitre of blood could face a maximum fine of up to $1,000. (THC is the primary psychoactive found in cannabis.)

A driver caught with a blood THC level of more than five nanograms, or found to have been drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis at the same time, faces a fine and the prospect of jail time. In more serious cases, a drug-impaired driver can face up to 10 years behind bars if convicted.

Police who are certified DRE experts undergo a series of practical training sessions — a program developed by the International Association of Chiefs of Police — to help them identify drivers who are impaired but aren’t under the influence of alcohol. The program is designed to enhance a police officer’s ability to spot the common signs of drug use.

Unlike cannabis impairment, alcohol impairment is relatively easy to detect because there is a closer correlation between the results of drivers’ breathalyzer tests and their blood alcohol levels.

While the government has given a green light to one oral fluid device — which can help road patrol police officers detect the presence of drugs — police services still need DRE-trained officers since not all drugs can be screened for at the roadside, and there isn’t enough evidence to set limits for every substance.

A DRE-trained officer takes a suspected impaired driver through a 12-step process which includes physical tests, the collection of urine or saliva samples, if necessary, and questions to determine the driver’s state of mind.

An assessment from a DRE-trained police officer could be enough on its own to level an impaired-driving charge against a driver under other, potentially less punitive Canadian laws that are meant to discourage people from driving while high.

Drug recognition experts are not the front-line officers trained to conduct Standardized Field Sobriety Tests (SFSTs) — roadside tests to identify drug-impaired drivers. Rather, DREs are trained to test drivers once they’ve already been stopped for a drug-impaired driving offence.

« We wish to, once again, assure all Canadians that failure to reach the target of 2,000 DREs in Canada does not prevent the police from being able to detect and deal with drug-impaired drivers today and once cannabis is legalized on October 17, 2018, » the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said in a statement.

« Canadian police services are working diligently to increase the number of trained officers while ensuring that there is a strategic deployment of trained police officers across each jurisdiction. »

Government sending mailer to 14 million households

After a fractious debate in Parliament and impassioned arguments between prohibitionists and those demanding a more permissive regime, recreational marijuana possession will be legal nationwide in two weeks’ time.

The government is sending a postcard-size document to 14,000,000 Canadian households over the next two weeks. The document outlines some of the basics of Bill C-45, the Cannabis Act, including warnings about driving or working while high and the need to keep cannabis away from children, youth and pets.

It also warns of the potential health effects of ingesting cannabis and the risks involved in travelling with cannabis across the Canada-U.S. border.

Canadians will be receiving pamphlets in the mail as part of the federal government’s public education plan ahead of cannabis legalization on Oct. 17. (CBC)

Starting on Oct. 17, more and more Canadian travellers to the U.S. could be forced to answer an uncomfortable question by wary American customs officers: Have you ever smoked pot?

Those who tell the truth risk being banned from the United States for life and might have to apply for a special waiver in order to visit the U.S. in future.

Thousands of Canadians have been denied entry to the U.S. for cannabis use already, while others have been banned simply for admitting they’ve smoked a joint once in their lives. For American border guards, a confession is just as good as a conviction.

While some U.S. states have dismantled prohibition — including Washington, a border state — possession remains a criminal offence federally. And the U.S. border is governed by federal law.

It also will be illegal for travellers to bring cannabis to Canada from abroad.

New signs will be posted at the border warning travellers. A government official said Friday that all Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) guards will be required to ask each and every traveller about cannabis possession at the border, and a question about cannabis use will be added to the declaration forms travellers fill out when entering Canada by air.

Provinces responsible for retail

While the federal government’s legislation dismantles many of the criminal sanctions against the drug, it’s up to individual provinces to decide on the practical details of cannabis sales, and rules on where and when someone can light up.

As with many aspects of law in the patchwork of Canadian federalism, the rules vary considerably depending on where you live. In general, the legal age has been harmonized with the current drinking ages: 18 or 19.

Ontario will restrict legal sales to an online portal until some point in the spring when private stores will be up and running (April has been tentatively suggested). The Ontario Cannabis Store, a government-owned entity, will be the exclusive wholesale and distributor to those stores.

Other provinces, like Quebec and most of Atlantic Canada, are pursuing a Crown corporation approach with distribution and sales controlled by an arm of the provincial government. In the West, retail sales will be handled largely by the private sector.

Municipalities will have leeway to implement their own bylaws on the location of stores and other local matters. Apartment buildings and condo boards will have their own restrictions, with many already opting for a restrictive stance banning cannabis consumption on their properties, both inside and out.

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