Pubdate: Thu, 28 Jul 2016
Source: Barrie Advance, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2016 Metroland Printing, Publishing and Distributing
Author: Frank Matys


As Ottawa prepares to legalize marijuana for recreational use, police 
are girding for a possible spike in drivers who find themselves one 
toke over the line.

"Certainly, the potential is there," said Sgt. David Wallbank, 
provincial coordinator of the OPP's drug evaluation and classification program.

More than 220 OPP officers are trained to detect drug impairment in 
motorists, and that number is expected to rise as pot moves into the 

"We are trying to train as many officers as we can, especially with 
the pending legalization coming in the future," Wallbank said.

Lacking the equivalent of the breathalyzers that detect alcohol, 
police employ a variety of techniques to reveal impairment by 
marijuana and other drugs.

Investigations begin at the roadside.

Officers trained in standardized field sobriety testing conduct a 
three-step evaluation: following a pen or finger with the eyes while 
the head is kept stationary, walking and turning and a one-leg stand.

"It can be used on either alcohol or drugs," Wallbank said of the examination.

Drivers who fail the roadside test are arrested and brought to the 
detachment where, in the case of suspected drug use, they are brought 
before a drug recognition evaluator.

"They do a 12-step battery of tests," Wallbank said.

Alcohol is initially ruled out through a breath sample, followed by 
an interview of the arresting officer.

The driver then undergoes a battery of tests and examinations that 
include blood pressure and pulse readings, a darkroom examination of 
pupil sizes, and other indicators of possible drug use, including 
flaccid muscle tone.

Samples of urine, saliva or blood are taken to be analyzed by the 
Centre of Forensic Sciences in Toronto.

However, the presence of a drug in a sample is not sufficient to 
charge an individual with impaired driving.

The evaluation, in its totality, must show impairment, including the 
evaluator's observations.

"Then it's up to the judge to make the determination whether or not 
the person was impaired at the time," Wallbank said.

Police gained access to these tools in 2008 through a law that 
included provisions aimed at detecting and charging individuals who 
drive while under the influence of drugs.

"Before that, we had no ability to demand a bodily fluid sample from 
somebody that was under arrest, so you had no way of corroborating 
the observations of the officer," Wallbank said.

Whether or not the number of drivers who hit the road stoned 
increases once pot is legalized remains to be seen. In Colorado, 
where pot is legal, the State Patrol reported that one in eight 
citations for impaired driving involved pot in 2014.

"Until we know how (the legislation around legalization) is going to 
be drafted and what restrictions are going to be placed, it's hard 
for me to say," Wallbank said. "Presumably, it will follow similar to 
what the alcohol restrictions are."

Just as it is illegal to have open alcohol in a vehicle, he presumes 
pot smoking would be equally out of bounds.

Complicating matters are the differing potencies of various marijuana 
strains, with some containing vastly inflated quantities of THC, the 
active ingredient in pot.

"It is certainly one of the challenges," said Wallbank, adding some 
strains are processed to boost THC levels "up to 90 per cent," versus 
the 10 to 12 per cent THC level that is common in a typical joint.

"There are some jurisdictions around the world that use five 
nanograms per milliliter of THC in their system - I don't know 
whether we are going to be using that or not," Wallbank said.

Police also don't know how the law will apply to medicinal users who 
may use marijuana throughout the day to combat pain or other 
debilitating conditions.

That, too, will need to be answered by the federal government.

"Currently the way it is, impaired driving is impaired driving," 
Wallbank said. "It doesn't matter what drug you are on. If your 
ability to operate a motor vehicle is impaired, an officer can arrest you."

While enforcement remains key to safeguarding Ontario's roads, so too 
is education around the dangers of drug-impaired driving, Wallbank said.

"Some people believe they are actually better drivers because it 
makes them calmer," he said, citing 18 to 25 year olds as a concern. 
"It's not the case: their reaction times and their perception 
abilities are dramatically affected while they are using cannabis."

Wallbank notes that testing is underway by the RCMP on roadside 
screening devices capable of detecting drugs in a saliva sample.

While the devices have shown to be effective, "we don't have it right 
now in legislation to be able to use it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom