June 29, 2018 7:40 pm
Updated: June 29, 2018 10:17 pm

More Nova Scotia officers to be trained as drug recognition experts: RCMP

Fri, Jun 29: We’re months away from legal recreational cannabis. There is new legislation in the works, along with a roadside saliva test. But as Steve Silva reports, police in Canada already have a specialized test for evaluating drug impairment in drivers.

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More police officers in Nova Scotia are going to be trained as drug recognition experts (DRE), according to the RCMP.

“We’re going into kind of uncharted territory, so we can only kind of look to other places and other jurisdictions where legalization has happened, and there certainly are trends that would suggest that the need for this training is going to increase,” Const. Chad Morrison, the provincial DRE co-ordinator, said.

The RCMP held an event for journalists at their provincial headquarters in Dartmouth on Friday. Using a civilian member, Morrison demonstrated a truncated version of how a drug recognition evaluation is performed.

The evaluation comes after a driver is arrested by police under the belief that the driver is impaired by alcohol or drugs.

READ MORE: NSLC unveils concept of ‘bright, open’ cannabis outlets

The Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (née the Canadian Centre on Substance Abuse) has recommended having six DREs for every 100,000 people.

RCMP Const. Chad Morrison performs a test on Alex Noonan, a junior communications officer for the police, as part of a staged drug recognition evaluation for journalists in Dartmouth, N.S., on June 29, 2018.

Steve Silva / Global News

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That ratio was determined years before access to legal recreational cannabis becomes a reality for Canadians this coming October, Morrison said, so the RCMP are reassessing what’s considered to be an adequate amount.

Currently, there are about 65 DREs active across the province in several different police departments. Morrison said the hope is to add about 20 to 22 more, and there are other courses on the same topic that officers are taking.

“I believe, as a province, we are in a good spot,” he said, also noting that there are officers already trained to conduct standardized field sobriety tests.

“Basically every officer on the road has a responsibility to be [finding and catching impaired drivers].”

Oral fluid screening devices will be used in the future by police, Morrison said.

RCMP Const. Chad Morrison performs a test on Alex Noonan (pictured), a junior communications officer for the police, as part of a staged drug recognition evaluation for journalists in Dartmouth, N.S., on June 29, 2018.

Steve Silva / Global News

DRE training lasts about three weeks. There are about 80 hours of in-class training, which includes officers testing on impaired volunteers. Passing the course leads to getting certified in Phoenix, Ariz., or Jacksonville, Fla.

“It is challenging. It is a difficult course,” Morrison said.

Drug recognition evaluations, which run about 45 minutes on average, are often performed in police stations, and he said they’ve also been performed in hospitals.

In the demonstration, Morrison asked junior communications officer Alex Noonan what she ate on Friday, checked her pulse, and measured the size of her pupils in several different lighting situations, among other actions in the 12-step program.

He also checked her body temperature, possible injection marks, muscle tone, and her ability to maintain balance while walking a line.

READ MORE: Marijuana to be legal in Canada starting October 17, Trudeau confirms

“I wasn’t impaired for this; I volunteered, but if you were impaired, I think these would have been actually really challenging to complete,” Noonan said post-demonstration.

Generally speaking, drivers impaired by cannabis or alcohol exhibit similar “erratic driving” on the roads, Morrison said.

With a file from Global’s Natasha Pace

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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