Testing for Marijuana in Canada as Legalization Approaches

Nov 17, 2016

The legalization of marijuana in Canada is a hot topic in the news, with debate surrounding issues from how to test for impairment to how sales and distribution for recreational users will work. The Hill Times released an article that extensively covers logistical concerns over what the legalization of marijuana might hold for Canada. The article provides a comprehensive report on the current state of testing technology and how that may impact the implementation of roadside and workplace testing when marijuana is legalised in Canada.

Roadside Testing

There is no doubt that one of the greatest concerns for Canadians with the oncoming legalization of marijuana is how the laws will deal with driving while under the influence of the drug. The Hill Times article mentions that roadside testing for impairment may be possible in the future, similar to the current alcohol impairment roadside test.

The difference is that with marijuana it is more difficult to ascertain how recently someone has taken in the drug, and whether or not they are actually currently impaired by the drug. This is due to marijuana being metabolized slowly by the body. When using a urine test the markers w testing for, called metabolites, can be present even thirty days after the last time the drug was taken in. Oral fluid testing on the other hand, which uses saliva, has been the type of test which is being looked at for roadside marijuana testing as this is the most likely to take a current snapshot of whether or not the person has taken in marijuana recently. Oral fluid testing has the ability to detect drug use within the first few hours, but it can also detect the drug up to 24 hours later, even more in some cases.

“The RCMP confirmed this spring that it planned on field testing oral fluid screening devices similar to breathalyzers—which could detect marijuana—at roadside stops. Plus, a new handheld device has been developed at the University of British Columbia that can detect the primary ingredient of marijuana in the breath up to 12 hours after consumption.”[1]

The controversy surrounding the science of determining impairment levels is still rampant as marijuana’s effects fluctuate so broadly based on how the substance is consumed, and the individual. The current procedure used by police officers for roadside marijuana testing is a visual assessment of impairment using a trained drug recognition expert.

Police who suspect drug-impaired driving use a standard sobriety test that includes looking at a driver’s eyes and asking the person to walk and turn and stand on one leg.”[2]

As the assessment form of testing doesn’t provide scientific evidence of impairment levels like a roadside breathalyzer test, law enforcement agencies across Canada will continue to try and obtain a reliable form of roadside testing that will be legally defensible. Currently many cases involving driving under the influence of marijuana have been thrown out of court for lack of quantifiable evidence. Until the testing technology can provide accurate information indicating levels of impairment law enforcement can use in court, impaired driving will remain a large societal issue in Canada.

Workplace Policies on Use

As the science on marijuana testing isn’t up to the task of measuring impairment levels, how will safety sensitive workplaces manage marijuana testing once it is legalized and easily accessible to Canadians for recreational use? This is a question that many employers are asking. The Hill Times indicated that the oil industry has put in a request to the federal government that this issue be dealt with by the creation of legislature for zero tolerance for safety sensitive positions. This will remain in debate as questions concerning privacy rights, and how this juxtaposes with the monitoring of what people consume off the job, is a controversial topic and the legislation on the matter is not well defined.

“Similar to driving, many Canadians will be showing up to work with residual THC in their bodies, even if they aren’t actually showing up stoned. Instituting drug testing at workplaces with a certain threshold won’t get to the root of the issue”[3]

Employers will be faced with the questions of how to test for marijuana once it has been legalized, as a zero tolerance policy could impact more than just their current employees but the employer’s ability to find prospective employees in the future. As legalization rapidly approaches more information concerning testing will inevitably be seen in policies and news outlets.




[1] https://www.hilltimes.com/2016/11/01/need-know-marijuana-legalization-canada-2/86116
[2] http://news.nationalpost.com/news/canada/police-across-canada-testing-saliva-based-roadside-devices-to-detect-drugs-in-impaired-drivers
[3] https://www.hilltimes.com/2016/11/01/need-know-marijuana-legalization-canada-2/86116