RCMP: police lack tools for effective roadside drug testing

Published: November 5, 2018

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We are now moving into the second month of Canada’s bold new world of legal cannabis for recreational purposes. However, while the Cannabis Act is not enacted, allowing Canadians, to buy, store, and consume pot, police forces are still playing catch up.

Police around Canada were left scrambling in the final weeks before the Cannabis Act came into effect, seeking a concise method for testing impaired drivers. Technology exists, such as the government-recommended DrugTest 5000, but a top RCMP officer says roadside detection tests are “not there yet.”

Speaking to The Fifth Estate, Chief Supt. Dennis Daley admitted the tests are partly subjective, even if they do have a base in science.

“It’s important for Canadians to realize that we don’t have a tool right now, a similar on the alcohol side, a machine that will actually print out something that says, ‘you are this, you are that.’ We do not have that,” says Daley.

“As the science improves, the technology no doubt will follow.”

Currently, most police forces in Canada are using traditional field sobriety tests and Drug Recognition Experts (DREs) to determine if a driver is high behind the wheel. When a driver is deemed to be impaired, police conduct a standard field sobriety test (SFST). This test includes a walk and turn test, one leg standing test, and an eye examination.

Complex Process

However, these test methods were mostly developed for impaired drivers who are drunk, not high. Their effectiveness at determining if someone has consumed cannabis is up for debate. Still, if a driver fails these tests and is taking to the station, a specialist DRE officer puts the motorist through a 12-step test.

This on-location test includes clinical indicators like blood pressure, body temperature, and pulse. Suspected drivers also receive a further eye exam. Drivers who fail or refuse this examination or field test face potential criminal charges and the same penalties as if they were impaired.

The RCMP runs this method and has 833 DREs throughout the country. However, one problem is this method is costly, time consuming, and potentially leads to innocent drivers getting prosecuted. Daley admits the situation is less than perfect, but also points out it’s all police in Canada have at the moment.