Article by Chris Zelkovich, Globe and Mail
Things are more than a little, ahem, hazy as Canada prepares for the legalization of marijuana at some unspecified date this summer.
But while many details are still, ahem, up in the air, one thing is clear: police forces across the country are expecting a big increase in driving-while-high cases.
“In jurisdictions that have legalized marijuana, there has been an increase in cannabis usage while driving,” Sergeant Ray Moos of the RCMP says.
The facts bear that out. The number of Colorado drivers who tested positive for marijuana use jumped 145 per cent from 2013 to 2016. Marijuana was legalized there in 2014.
A study released last summer reported that the number of collisions reported to insurance companies in Colorado, Oregon and Washington State is 3 per cent higher than what would have been expected if those states had not legalized marijuana.
Scarier, yet, is a recent Health Canada survey that showed 39 per cent of cannabis users polled said they had driven within two hours of smoking up.
With that in mind, Canadian police forces are gearing up for what’s expected to come this summer when lighting up a joint is scheduled to become legal.
While much of what police forces do won’t change – charging those who drive while high on drugs has been enforced for decades – there is already a lot more emphasis on those who get behind the wheel after smoking marijuana.
The RCMP, for one, have stepped up training with the proposed law in mind.
“That’s aimed at giving our officers a better ability to detect cannabis impairment as well as all other drug impairments,” Moos says.
While the techniques are pretty much the tried and true – looking for unsteadiness, dilated pupils, lack of focus and so forth – police do have one new tool in their arsenal. There’s been a substantial increase in the number of drug-recognition evaluators across the country and police forces are expecting to triple the number of evaluators by the end of next year.
These are trained officers who make the final call on whether to lay impaired-driving charges after a driver has been taken off the road. They conduct thorough tests to determine level of impairment.
“It’s a 12-step evaluation where there are over 100 pieces of information obtained,” Corporal David Botham of the RCMP says. The evaluation includes tests of body temperature, muscle tone and attention abilities.