Increase in training leads to more drug impairment investigations

Sep 24, 2019

In Edmonton, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of drug tests conducted at the police station since the legalization of cannabis. In fact, Edmonton police are currently conducting more than 10 times the number of drug-impaired driving investigations compared to the previous several years. However, according to the police force, this spike can be attributed to better training of officers, and not due to significant increases in driving while under the influence of drugs.

According to the Edmonton Journal, in 2017, the number of drug tests conducted at the police station was approximately 50. In 2018, it spiked to a total of 168, and so far in 2019, a total of 109 people have been tested. Since there is now a paramedic stationed at police headquarters 24 hours a day, blood tests of suspected drug-impaired drivers can be conducted any time.

“It’s not because all of a sudden [cannabis] became legal and people are using and reefer madness — that’s not what we’ve seen. We know people were using it before,” Det. Braydon Lawrence of Edmonton Police said at the August conference on drug driving and legal cannabis held by the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety. “We were just able to get a little more funding and do more training with our frontline membership,” he added. “It’s just like any other job, where if you invest time and money into training and the tools for people to do their job appropriately and do proper enforcement, the results are going to come eventually and that’s what we’ve seen with ours.”

At the conference, Lawrence also revealed that as of August 12th, 195 Edmonton police officers were trained to perform the standardized field sobriety test, compared to only 15 police officers trained in 2015. In May 2018, Edmonton city council had approved $1.4 million in funding to help Edmonton Police Service to prepare for cannabis legalization. Subsequently, in May 2018, Edmonton police had conducted three times more drug tests compared to 2017.

According to statistics provided by Edmonton Police, approximately one-third of drug-impaired driving arrests in the first six months of legalization in October 2018 were associated with cannabis. According to the official procedure, a police officer can demand a driver perform a standardized field sobriety test if they have reasonable suspicion that the driver is under the influence of drugs. The tests include an eye examination, a walk-and-turn test and a one-leg stand test. Failure of these tests can lead to arrest, and the driver is subsequently taken to the police station where a trained drug recognition expert performs a more comprehensive 12-step test and the driver may be required to undergo a blood test.

In his interview with the Edmonton Journal, RCMP Cpl. Richard Nowak, coordinator of Alberta’s drug evaluation and classification system, said, “It’s not necessarily the massive reefer madness that people were projecting it to be… We were preparing for the worst-case scenario and hoping for the best.”