Pubdate: Wed, 27 Dec 2017
Source: Sault Star, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2017 The Sault Star
Author: Brian Kelly
Page: A1


Impending legalization is daunting says Keetch

Sault Ste. Marie's top cop anticipates impaired driving by drugs "is
going to be a significant challenge" in the latter half of the new

The federal government plans to legalize marijuana on July

Robert Keetch, chief of Sault Ste. Marie Police Service, fears city
residents will opt to toke and drive, not recognizing how their
ability to drive may be impaired.

"Canadians have not been getting the message when it comes to impaired
driving and it remains the leading criminal cause of death in Canada,"
he told The Sault Star. "I believe that legalizing marijuana will only
add to the numbers of drivers on our roadways whose ability to drive
is impaired by either alcohol and/or drugs. I believe there are
individuals who will consume legal marijuana and be under a false
impression that their ability to drive is not impaired and will get
behind the wheel of a vehicle and drive."

Statistics Canada reported 72,039 impaired-driving incidents in 2015.
About 4 per cent of those incidents involved drug impairment.

"I believe that due to the difficulty in identifying, testing and
charging individuals whose ability to drive is impaired by drugs the
number of individuals driving on our roadways under the influence of
drugs is significantly higher than reflected in these numbers," said

Citing a report from Canadian Centre of Substance Abuse, Keetch notes
youth are not aware of crashes due to marijuana consumption and they
share wider public perception that while drinking and driving is not
acceptable, impairment by marijuana is not considered a concern.

"I believe the perceptions of youth referenced in this study reflects
the beliefs of society in general and should be concerning to all of
us," he said.

Keetch has no estimate of how many drivers on Sault streets will be
charged with impaired driving because of smoking marijuana starting
next summer.

"One of the challenges will be that proving a drug-impaired driving
offence will be complicated and time consuming," he said. "Field
testing (using oral fluid screening devices) to detect the presence of
marijuana in a driver is still in the development stage. Legislative
changes need to be enacted before devices can be approved for use in
an enforcement capacity in Canada."

Police also need to know the maximum limit of tetrahydrocannabinol
that can be in the blood before a driver is considered impaired.

"It is going to be difficult to prove and bring matters before the
court and potentially get convictions in front of the judicial system
based on the legislation and the testing we have at our availability
at this point in time," said Keetch.

He wants more of his officers to get standardized field sobriety test
and drug recognition expert training. The instruction can help police
identify persons who are under the influence of marijuana.

"We think there's going to be an increased prevalence of individuals
driving vehicles that are under the influence of marijuana when it's
legalized," said Keetch. "We want to be in a position to recognize
that and enforce laws relative to marijuana."

He's concerned other police services want officers trained

"We're all competing for limited spaces on these courses," said

His service has asked the Ministry of Community Safety and
Correctional Services to consider the Sault as a Northern training
site to ease travel costs to Ontario Police College in Alymer. Other
Northern services could send their officers to the city. Sault police
are still waiting to hear back on their request. Drug recognition
expert training is only available in Florida.

Education, prevention, intervention, collaboration and enforcement are
all part of a strategy to deal with the legalization of marijuana,
says Keetch.

"The impending July 1 date is challenging, but we will continue to
monitor the situation, provide our collective input/advice and
dedicate significant resources in an effort to minimize the risk to
overall community safety," he said.

Keetch spoke with The Sault Star prior to City of Sault Ste. Marie
announcing last Friday his employment relationship with the
municipality will end, likely in 2018, after a successor for his
position is found.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Matt