Article by Derek Baldwin, The Intelligencer
Cannabis connoisseurs may be in for more than a buzz the next time they’re stopped at a police spot check by officers on the hunt for impaired drivers.
The days when being high and behind the wheel were undetectable are over thanks to new federally-approved drug-screening devices purchased by the Ontario Provincial Police and now being rolled out at roadsides in the province.
In a launch of the annual regional Festive RIDE initiative Tuesday in Belleville, top brass with the Ontario Provincial Police warned the public the new units can detect the presence of drugs in a person’s saliva.
Staff Sgt. John Hatch, Prince Edward County OPP, told The Intelligencer “the OPP have purchased 23 new units that detect the presence of cannabis and cocaine in saliva. They only detect the presence of, not the level of, substances.”
When a driver is asked to provide a sample using what is called a “cassette” to test a person’s saliva, if drugs are confirmed, the driver will accompany police to headquarters to provide a blood sample to confirm the presence of drugs in the system.
The devices are bad news for young, novice and commercial drivers using drugs given zero tolerance sanctions implemented by the province in July of last year.
All three categories of drivers are not allowed to have any level of substances in their blood or they can face criminal charges.
In a zero tolerance advisory, the Ministry of Transportation said, “young and novice drivers are prohibited from having any presence of cannabis in their system as well as other drugs that can be detected using approved drug screening equipment. That means that Ontario has a zero tolerance approach to both alcohol and drugs for all young and novice drivers.”
“If police determine that you have the presence of cannabis or alcohol in your system and/or that you are impaired by any substance including illegal drugs, prescription drugs or over-the-counter medications, you will face severe consequences and potential criminal charges,” the ministry said.
To enforce the message, a number of OPP detachment commanders in the region joined Belleville Police Service at Zwick’s Island where they kicked off the Quinte Region Traffic Coalition’s Festive RIDE initiative in relation to the #HomeSafeForThe Holidays campaign launched last month.
A RIDE stop was set up at the northern foot of the Norris Whitney Bridge.
Staff Sgt. Hatch said he wanted to “remind everybody that there is a very high probability that they will encounter a RIDE program over the holidays. The reasons those officers are out doing those RIDE programs is to reduce impaired driving everywhere and we want everyone to get home safely.”
Belleville Chief of Police Ron Gignac said society is tired of people still drinking and driving after decades of awareness campaigns and needless deaths.
More than 600 people have been killed on Ontario roads in collisions involving alcohol or drugs.
“We shouldn’t be doing this any more. We’re on to 40 years plus now with education, enforcement. When will the lesson be learned?”