Having a testing process in place to detect whether or not drivers are operating motor vehicles while under the influence of cannabis prior to starting sales of recreational marijuana is a very good thing. However, when the testing process is imperfect, the story changes quite a bit. In Canada, where recreational marijuana sales will begin on October 17, 2018, the struggle between cannabis legalization and keeping people safe on roadways is already well underway.

Unfortunately, the cannabis roadside test, the Drager DrugTest 5000, which was approved for all law enforcement agencies by the Canadian Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould in August, is arguably just as imperfect as every other cannabis test that has come before it. Scientific research has found that there is no single blood test or oral fluid test that can determine whether or not a person is impaired by the THC in cannabis or not. While innovative entrepreneurs and scientists continue to look for a reliable testing method, one has yet to be found.

The Drager DrugTest 5000 uses saliva screening equipment to test for THC. According to the manufacturer, Drager, the device is used in over 40 jurisdictions in the world, including Finland, Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Australia. Despite reports of many false positive and false negative test results and reports that the device does not operate well in cold or hot temperatures, the company defends the device by citing its own research in Norway which showed the device’s results are reliable.

Not All Canadian Police Departments Support the Approved Tests

The Canadian government has pledged $161 million in funding for drug testing equipment and police training over the next five years, but not all Canadians or police departments are on board with the Drager DrugTest 5000. For example, the Ottawa Police Department announced that it would not use the machine despite the government’s approval.

Ottawa’s chief of police, Charles Bordeleau, listed three primary reasons why his department will not use the approved device. First, each device is $6,000. Second, the law states that once a department purchases a device, it is expected to install the device in a police cruiser and begin using it immediately. Bordeleau says that regulation would make the machines cost prohibitive to the department. Third, Bordeleau states that the lack of reliability in results reported at different temperatures is a big problem.

Instead, his department is focusing on training more drug recognition experts who test people who fail field sobriety tests in a 12-step process that looks for cognitive and physical signs of impairment. If someone does poorly on these tests, a blood or urine test is ordered.

Bordeleau believes a drug recognition expert will be viewed as more reliable in a courtroom than the machine test that only detects the presence of TCH rather than the impairment level. He may be correct. Many attorneys have already stepped forward and stated that the Drager DrugTest 5000 is likely to be challenged in Canadian court.

The Future of Cannabis Driving Impairment Tests

The problem with testing for cannabis and related driving impairment is that there isn’t a direct correlation between the amount of THC a person has consumed and their impairment level like there is with alcohol consumption and impairment. THC can stay in a person’s system for up to seven days, but that person isn’t impaired for seven days. In addition, frequent cannabis users’ test results are likely to be very different from infrequent users’ tests, but those test results won’t necessarily provide accurate information about impairment levels.

Many companies are actively working on developing new cannabis impairment tests and equipment, but until a reliable testing method is discovered, Canada’s federal government hopes the approved drug screening equipment will provide another tool to help police officers enforce the country’s laws and keep its citizens safe. Using the device is not mandatory in Canada police departments, so we’ll have to wait and see which departments purchase and use them and which follow in the Ottawa police department’s footsteps and opt out.