Pubdate: Thu, 20 Apr 2017
Source: Recorder & Times, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 Recorder and Times
Author: Lorraine Sommerfeld
Page: B7


Canada loves being way up there, even No. 1, in those surveys about
the best places to visit or live. Not so cool? We're also No. 1 in
alcohol-related vehicle deaths among wealthy countries, according to a
study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reporting on 2015.

If we can't get our game together on alcohol, what's going to happen
when we add legalized marijuana to the mix? I pity the cops tasked
with judging a cornucopia of drug-addled drivers, dabbling from both
the illegal and legal sides of the aisle.

Statistics are magic things; traffic fatalities are indeed down 43 per
cent since 2000, but "proportion of deaths linked to alcohol
impairment was 34 per cent, higher than any of the other countries in
the survey." Car manufacturers are saving us from ourselves with truly
innovative safety features, but we merrily go on testing them with a
hardcore group of drunks who refuse to give up the wheel.

Police and politicians and advocacy groups have long been dealing with
tackling booze, which continues to make up the vast majority of
impaired charges. For instance, in Toronto last year, there were 1,376
arrests for driving while impaired, with 86 impaired by drugs. In
2015, there were only 24 impaired-by-drug arrests. The more accessible
a substance is, the more likely police will see an increase in the
number of drug-impaired arrests. But with the looming legalization of
marijuana, it's hard not to anticipate a corresponding spike in not
just its usage, but acceptance.

Washington state reports that since the legalization of cannabis five
years ago, a full one third of the impairment charges issued to
drivers is for the drug.

I don't care if you smoke dope; I do care if you get behind the wheel
after you've done so. Pot can sabotage your reaction time and your
focus and if legality entices a new group of smokers (and drivers) who
haven't previously experienced the effects of the drug, whole new
landscapes of impairment will be on our roads.

Police agencies in all jurisdictions of Canada have been working for
years to train specialty officers to detect impairment in drivers due
to those substances not readily scientifically measured roadside: the
cocaine, the meth, the opiates, the depressants and the hallucinogens.
Roadside sobriety tests have long included more than a blow test, and
recent pilot programs are introducing saliva tests.

Other countries have introduced drugalyzers, which test for the top
eight prescribed drugs - Clonazepam, Diazepam, Flunitrazepam and
Lorazepam, to name a few - and the top eight street drugs, including
cocaine, cannabis, LSD, ecstasy, etc. The drugalyzer units used in
Great Britain cost about $4,000 and about $10 for a test strip.

Police in parts of Canada are already testing similar units. Toronto,
Vancouver, Halifax and Gatineau, as well as the RCMP in North
Battleford, Saskatchewan, and Yellowknife, are administering a saliva
test to those who volunteer to anonymously provide a sample. The
results can't be used in court, and are being used to establish
protocol going forward on how or if the units might be used.

Constable Clint Stibbe with Toronto Police Services warns that just
because a drug is legal, doesn't mean you will avoid a charge if you
are under impairment from it.

As of February of this year, Drug Recognition Officers (DREs) are
considered experts by the Supreme Court of Canada. With no current
measurable levels of impairment in place (as there is for alcohol) in
most parts of Canada, .08 BAC is indictable territory for being
impaired, but .05 BAC is where suspensions and impoundment set in and
testimony from these DREs is accepted in court as expert testimony at

Cannabis presents its own unique hurdles for judging impairment; the
drug is estimated to stay in your system for about 30 days, but that
number can vary wildly, depending on if you're a one-time or long-term
user. Measuring the buzz, or impairment, can be even more difficult.
Stibbe warns that while a saliva test is a tempting threshold, it is
simply another tool for law enforcement to use to augment their powers
of detection.

A report released this month concluded that for 2017, "the Toronto
Police Service has seen an 11 per cent decrease in alcohol-related
impaired driving arrests. Drug impaired driving arrests have increased
by approximately 18 per cent year-to-date." Which means the police are
going to need all the help they can get.

There are a lot of substances, both legal and illegal, that people can
ingest before getting behind the wheel. I doubt the legalization of
cannabis will ever approach the spectacular carnage we've managed to
achieve with alcohol, and the prohibition of that product did little
to stop it anyway. We will be seeing new and improved ways for people
to twist under the law and pay a lot of lawyers to help them.

But keep in mind that at this juncture, with or without a definitive
version of a breathalyzer for street drugs, those DREs are considered
experts in the eyes of the law.
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