With Legal Weed Just Days Away, Canuck Cops Wonder How to Get Blood From a Stone(d Driver)

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

The large country just north of Cleveland will make it legal to buy and consume marijuana on October 17th, no doubt turning the air in this author’s neighborhood even skunkier that it already is.

With the lifting of prohibitive laws comes new driving-related legislation designed to crack down on stoned drivers and placate a somewhat nervous public. Problem is, law enforcement’s tool chest remains pretty bare. The one government-approved method available to cops to check if a driver is stoned — a saliva test — might not work if it’s cold out. Whoops.

Don’t worry, though — there’s always a blood test. It’s the only way to ensure the not-always-accurate saliva test returned a true reading, but there’s a big problem with that, too: time.

If any police officer hopes to lay a charge of impaired driving, a blood sample must be obtained within two hours of the alleged offence. Bloods tests are the gold standard for determining drug impairment, and in many Canadian cities they’ll be the only clinical test. Numerous jurisdictions, including Vancouver and Ottawa, aren’t on board with the saliva test.

Still, a regular roadside sobriety test, coupled with the officer’s observations, will suffice for cities that don’t trust the Drager DrugTest 5000. If the driver looks impaired, they’ll be ordered to undergo a blood test. At that point, the clock starts ticking.

What’s unclear at this time is how an officer patrolling the country’s vast, icy wastes is supposed to get a suspect into a lab within that two-hour window. As The National Post reports, big city police departments will likely partner with on-call medical staff available at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, that doesn’t help the lone patrol officer of the Jerkwater, Saskatchewan Police Constabulary.

A solution might lie in a very uncomfortable practice: the police officer drawing blood from the driver. Previous impaired driving laws stated the suspect’s blood must be drawn in a hospital setting. Not any more.

“This is admittedly a new area that we have not pursued before in policing,” said Sgt. Richard Butler, head of the Calgary, Alberta police department’s impaired driving unit. “Any time we’ve pursued taking blood from impaired drivers, it’s always been in a hospital setting.”

Butler said the question of what to do with a suspect’s blood while patrolling out in the sticks is a hot topic. “I know there has been some consideration for some of the rural, or even some of the smaller towns, to actually train their own members in phlebotomy to take the blood,” he said.

Canada’s national police force, the RCMP, is tasked with policing areas where the population and tax base is too meager to support a local force. Being a federal department, they’ve signed on for the Drager DrugTest 5000, but blood remains a question mark. RCMP officers are likely to find themselves further from a hospital or lab than any other officer in the country.

“At this point the RCMP are not drawing blood,” an official said.

The National Post also noted that the federal force’s toxicology lab is operating at near capacity, and won’t be able to handle additional drug testing until 2021. As you can see, this 2015 federal election promise is going off without a hitch.

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • Big Al from Oz Big Al from Oz on Oct 13, 2018

    At work I'm an authorised (and trained) drug and alcohol tester and test supervisor (the worst of the two). Alcohol testing is so easy, just blow in the pipe. Drug testing is another story altogether, what a pain in the a$$. I got into trouble when I politely asked those on prescribed medications to be the last to present themselves for the testing, "personal privacy". Because if you test and the result is pending (not positive, I can't say that word or I'll be hung) it takes a massive amount of paperwork, packaging so the sample can be sent to a lab, etc. I think the pharma industry should be able to design and develop a decent reliable and accurate process that is quick, like alcohol testing. But, this can only be measured with your breath. But, you don't want someone stoned and off their face on the road.

    • Lou_BC Lou_BC on Oct 14, 2018

      @Big Al from Oz - "takes a massive amount of paperwork, packaging so the sample can be sent to a lab" You are subject to the same laws as police when it comes to "continuity of evidence". You get a "positive" reading and you have to send off a sample, the process has to hold up in a court of law. I've been to court over an alcohol impairment case. Lawyers will nitpick every minute detail. You miss a tiny detail and the case gets thrown out.

  • Sobro Sobro on Oct 13, 2018

    Surely an fMRI will show if you're actually stoned. And since Canadian health care is "free", everyone who is suspected can get a brain scan on the side of the road. civilized.life/articles/this-is-your-brain-on-drugs-according-to-fmri-scans-of-cannabis-consumers/

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