New police curriculum to detect drug-impaired driving

Introduction to Drug-Impaired Driving

In preparation for the legalization of cannabis across Canada, a new drug-impaired driving training program is being formed to aid law enforcement in their efforts to help prevent Canadians from driving while under the influence of drugs. The course will include information on most drug use as well as alcohol impairment, and will focus on cannabis and its inebriating effects.

The Introduction to Drug-Impaired Driving curriculum will correspond with the training currently provided for Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST). Officers who are SFST certified can test drivers that they suspect of impairment from drugs or alcohol.

While alcohol can be precisely tested for levels of impairment using a breathalyzer device, the testing and measurement of drug impairment is more difficult, as there is not yet a system in place that can determine levels of cannabis and other drugs in roadside testing situations. No roadside testing device has been approved in Canada, so law enforcement will have to rely on standard field testing in situations in which they suspect drivers of impairment, even after the legislation has been introduced to the Canadian public.

Offences and Testing

Currently, there are three proposed offences based on the amount of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) found in each driver’s system: a summary offence for up to 2 nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood, a hybrid offence of up to 5ng of THC per millilitre of blood (the legal limit), and a further hybrid, which would involve a combination of drug and alcohol use, with upper limits of 0.05 blood alcohol content and 2.5ng of THC per millilitre of blood.

Cpl. Shawn Tarnick from the Altona Police Service says the laws are a good move forward, and thinks “it’s just common sense that we hope the public takes to this. The police are not biased towards marijuana or alcohol, when it becomes legal it’s legal. Our job is to work within those boundaries [and for] the safety of the road.”

With the new curriculum, officers may be given further authority which may include demanding a blood sample from a driver who fails a sobriety test. Refusing to comply with this demand would entail a Criminal Code offence. When a blood sample is demanded, the driver will be taken to the nearest health centre to provide a blood sample for analysis, although with the increasing number of projected impairment blood tests, it is predicted that the return of blood and urine sample analysis results will take longer than currently possible.

Concerns are rising over what will be done to prevent impaired drivers from operating vehicles while awaiting results from their fluid tests, which can take up to six months. Currently, impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada. Over the last year, Canada beefed up the impaired driving regime in the Criminal Code by strengthening the existing drug-impaired driving laws, rolled out a public awareness campaign to teach Canadians about the dangers of driving under the influence of cannabis and other drugs, and committed to working with provincial, territorial, and municipal governments, as well as local communities, to train and equip officers to keep the roads and highways safe for all. But, as Cpl. Tarnick states, “There needs to be something in place to prevent people from driving again while we’re waiting for those results. That again is going to be up to the province.”

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