A 21-year-old man who smashed into a police cruiser at 11 a.m. CT on Monday is now facing charges related to drug impairment. In 2017, there was just one similar charge laid by the Saskatoon Police Service (SPS).
With cannabis legalization expected sometime in 2018, SPS is determining how it will test for drug impairment.
“We’re aware that it’s an intoxicant that it’s going to impact driving actions,” SPS Chief Troy Cooper said.
Police plan to use their standard field sobriety test to identify suspected drug impaired drivers. If motorists fail that, they’ll need to answer to one of 14 drug recognition experts (DRE).
“Balance, your ability to walk, they’re going to test your blood pressure, they’re going to test your pupil response,” SPS Supt. Brian Shalovelo listed.
A recent ruling by the Supreme Court of Canada allows for the opinion of DREs to be recognized as expert testimony in criminal trials, removing the subjectivity debate, according to Shalovelo.
According to Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), 57 people died in collisions on Saskatchewan roads in 2016 because of impairment.
Marijuana-related traffic deaths increased 48 per cent in the first three years following legalization in Colorado, according to state data.
“They have an increased use of cannabis that we won’t see here,” Cooper said.
While breathalyzers measure blood alcohol levels, Health Canada has not yet approved roadside tests to screen for drug impairment meaning more DREs are needed.
“Because we don’t know the role out date, we’re behind. All of us across Canada are behind in terms of planning and staffing and training and over all response to the new legislation,” Shalovelo said.
Also lagging, according to the Canadian Public Health Association (CPHA), is education. A national survey shows 79 per cent of teens age 16 to 19 understand the risk of drinking and driving while just 48 per cent understand the risk of consuming cannabis and driving.
According to the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse and Addiction, the economic impact of cannabis related collisions is an estimated $1 billion per year, nationally.
“Health care workers, social workers, you name it, the only thing we can say is ‘it’s illegal. Don’t use it.’ With legalization coming along, we know that we can have that conversation,” CPHA executive director Ian Culbert said.
According to Culbert, that’s key because avoiding drug impaired driving should take priority, over catching it.