Will roadside drug screening work? What another industry says about the tests

Just how dangerous will our roads be with drug-impaired drivers once cannabis is legalized in this country?

One Saskatoon attorney says right now there’s the public perception that we’ll see a dramatic change on the streets come Oct. 17, but there’s no evidence to actually back this theory.

Don’t forget about DRE, Sask. police watching for high drivers

“There’s no suggestion in any of this,” said Andrew Mason, criminal defence lawyer with the law firm Scott Phelps & Mason. “That people are going to be jumping into their cars when they weren’t before — they were users that weren’t jumping into their cars and now that’s it’s legal and will now be jumping into their cars high.”

In June, roadside saliva-testing devices were authorized by Bill C-46.

Police forces, including the Saskatoon Police Service and the Saskatchewan Police College, are now waiting on an official nod from Ottawa.

Although the device itself isn’t anything new, something similar has been used by occupational drug testing services like SureHire for quite some time.

Medical marijuana users fear impaired driving laws once cannabis is legal

In 2017, the company conducted 50,000 drug tests for industries like construction and oil and gas. This year, they are set to screen up to 60,000 individuals through various methods, including an oral fluid test.

Staff say the saliva mouth swab is simple, not overly invasive and that it would be hard the mask the fluid with another substance.

“It’s recognized by the Canadian model as a proven method, and at the lab it’s 100 per cent accurate,” Erin Barid, with SureHire Occupational Testing Services, said.

It’s typically used for workplace “post-incident reasonable suspicion” cases and can narrow down the time frame in which a person has consumed cannabis.

“It would be able to tell us if someone used THC within about two to 12 hours,” Barid said.

“So it is more closely tied to impairment, but it’s not 100 per cent. It won’t given you the exact time that they used it and current impairment.”

When it comes to police using it after pulling someone over, the other major concern particularly in the prairie provinces is the saliva drug screening devices were likely to register a drug-positive result when the weather was cold outside.

From Dec. 18, 2016, to March 6, 2017, 1,141 oral fluid samples were collected by officers from across Canada for a study conducted by Public Safety Canada.


While the two different devices tested worked in all weather conditions, there were some “temperature-related issues that arose when the devices were used in extreme cold temperatures.”

The work around will be that officers will have to conduct tests in their cruisers any time it’s below freezing.

“It does not quantify the level of use, it indicates the presence of a certain metabolite of THC and I don’t really think that is going to assist law enforcement in weeding out impaired drivers,” Mason said.

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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