Drugs and Driving Committee accepts drug screening device for review

The Drugs and Driving Committee (DDC) has accepted one drug screening device for evaluation and is currently reviewing three additional devices, according to a spokesman for the agency.

How Canada will manage cannabis-impaired driving once the drug is made legal this summer has been a major concern for law enforcement, politicians and stakeholders.

A recent survey for Health Canada shows that 39% of polled cannabis users say they’ve driven within two hours of smoking cannabis. Many police have stated they expect an increase in incidents of cannabis-impaired driving and have expressed a concern with a lack of testing equipment and funding available to law enforcement to deal with this expected increase.

Last summer, Public Safety Canada released the results of their Oral Fluid Drug Screening Device Pilot Project from the previous winter. The program was intended to coincide with the government’s promise to legalize cannabis, and was in collaboration with Public Safety Canada, the RCMP, and the Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators.

The testing took place between December 18, 2016 and March 6, 2017, with 1141 oral fluid samples collected by law enforcement officers across Canada. The results were analyzed by the roadside using two oral fluid drug screening devices: the Securetec DrugRead and the Alere DDS-2. These devices have been used and tested in other jurisdictions, as well.

Manufacturers who wish to have their drug-testing devices used in Canada had until November 30, 2017 to submit an application to the DDC for consideration.

According to Public Safety Canada, drug-impaired driving has been on the rise in Canada since the police-reported data became available in 2009. The agency notes that the percentage of Canadian drivers killed in auto crashes who test positive for drugs (40%) now exceeds that of drivers who test  positive for alcohol (33.3%).

In addition to testing for THC, the department requires the machines also be able to detect cocaine and
methamphetamine as target compounds for analysis.

The Federal government has also launched a “Don’t Drive High” campaign to better inform Canadians of the risks and penalties for impaired driving.

The website notes that Canadian men are 2.5 times more likely than women to have driven a vehicle while under the influence of cannabis, and that a drug-impaired driving incident occurs every 3 hours in Canada each day.

The website also notes that more than one in four cannabis users have reported having driven under the influence, and that marijuana doubles your chances of being in a crash (this is based on a research study from 2012).

These figures are, however, challenged by other studies which show different data. Conflicting data makes addressing concerns with impaired driving and cannabis in a post-legalized world challenging.

Concerns with drug impaired driving have been a major part of the debate around legalization in the House of Commons, with many opposition members noting that many police forces in Canada say they are unprepared to deal with legal cannabis and that no reliable impairment detection devices exist for cannabis or cannabinoids.

“Driving stoned is more dangerous than driving sober, but the difference is more like the additional risk of driving while sleepy or angry than it is like the additional risk of driving drunk. It’s nowhere near as dangerous as driving while using a cellphone, even hands-free. Stoned driving should be a traffic offense, not a crime like drunk driving. Traffic risks aren’t a substantial objection to legalization, though of course smart policy would discourage driving stoned, and especially driving with both cannabis and alcohol on board.” – Mark Kleiman, the architect of cannabis legalization in Washington State

Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness have in the past said they are preparing for an expected a increase in enforcement against marijuana-impaired drivers after legalization.

An Ipso-Nanos poll from earlier this year said that a majority of Canadians want cannabis impaired driving treated the same as alcohol, and also showed that not all Canadians feel ‘stoned driving’ is as big of a concern as drunk driving.

However, the poll shows no consensus on the subject. Nearly 20% of respondents said they don’t believe driving ‘high’ on cannabis to be impaired driving. Only 12% of respondents said the same about alcohol. The report also shows that one in three Millennials don’t consider driving while high on marijuana to be impaired driving.

Featured image via Oregon Department of Transportation.

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