By on October 12, 2018

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.

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35 Comments on “With Legal Weed Just Days Away, Canuck Cops Wonder How to Get Blood From a Stone(d Driver)...”

  • avatar

    That picture is from North Saint Paul MN. That is not Canada.

    Attention to detail is a thing…

  • avatar
    Gardiner Westbound

    Forethought is not the Boy Wonder’s strong suit.

  • avatar

    They forgot to pass the “law of unintended consequences”.

  • avatar

    They’re just not going to do it at all, right? It’s a pain in the ass, the lawyers will be foaming at the mouth, and while it’s extremely unwise to drive high, it’s not in the same league as alcohol, so the cops will probably just turn a blind eye.

    Isn’t that what happens in Colorado and Massachusetts anyway?

  • avatar

    Great catch! I’m from the area, and I missed that!

  • avatar

    Will the blood test show *current* intoxication, or the presence at all in the blood?

    If someone smokes once at 7pm after getting home and while watching Ancient Aliens, they’re not still stoned the next morning headed to work at 6am. But, THC is still present in their system. It wouldn’t be fair to cite that person for impaired driving when they’re just as competent that morning as they would be if they’d never smoked in their life.

    It isn’t like alcohol, THC stays in your system for quite a while (weeks) after the effects have worn off.

    • 0 avatar

      There lies the problem. Testing for alcohol via blood tests is accurate. THC lingers and many people who are completly sober will test positive. Unless there is a way to determine what is residual as to what is active, blood testing does not work. I see a lot of people getting arrested when they should not…but that will help jack up insurance rates so the industry will certainly support it.

      I, for one, have no interest in letting a police officer draw my blood in the back of a Crown Vic.

    • 0 avatar

      Police will have to rely on ticketing people for actually driving bad instead of the potential for driving bad. I do agree with arresting drunk drivers, but I would have to see empirical evidence that stoned drivers are as dangerous as drunk drivers before I would stand behind stoned driving laws.

      • 0 avatar

        There is no clear correlation between THC or CBD levels and intoxication like there is with alcohol. The solution was to pick a serum level that is very low which is almost the same as saying zero tolerance. It was obviously a political decision but it appeases the conservative ideologues who feel cannabis is the gateway to hell and it allows legalized recreational use which appeases liberal abolitionists.

        Which would you rather have?
        The only other option would be to continue banning recreational use until science/medicine found a reliable measure of cannabis intoxication.

        I suspect that just like alcohol, there will be an avenue for police in Canada to issue a “road-side” suspension. In other words, “Hey dude, park the vehicle for the night and get it in 24 hours or both our lives get very complicated.” I’m sure most will chose to park rather than argue.

  • avatar

    I predict that what we will end up with is a replacement of the field sobriety test with a field capability test. It won’t be easy but it shouldn’t be impossible. For example I could see using a tablet with a game-like app that measure reaction time, attention to detail and reasoning skills.

  • avatar

    Good luck with that. The only reason a cop wants to get within grabbing distance of anyone suspected of being “impaired” is to put them on the ground with a boot on their neck for their own safety. And that’s likely the best case result.

    Drawing blood? While alone? Not unless they taze the suspect first.

  • avatar
    Menar Fromarz

    I rather like the stance that Transport Canada uses for pilots and the medical that grants them the ability to legally fly, as per the linked article.

    As a Canadian, a pilot and decidedly NON weed user, I say good for them. Its too bad the act of driving a car or other such vehicle in a non-commercial setting allows damn near anything, and pity the poor RCMP for having to enforce the concept of “Intoxication”or “Impairment”.

    Total bullXXX. When I was in high school, they called them stoners for a reason.

  • avatar

    It is still a mystery to me as to why there will be a problem testing drivers.
    All they have to do is go on a junket, sorry, fact finding mission to Australia where they have had roadside drug/alcohol testing for years. It is only a preliminary test and, if a drug is detected, a proper blood test is conducted. This is where the actual charge will come from as it is more accurate. The only issue we have here is that it can’t detect for ICE usage, normally that is only found out when they drag the body/survivor out of the wreckage.

    • 0 avatar

      THC is fat soluble. It will show up in a blood test days and even weeks after the marijuana was consumed. A positive test is not indicative of intoxication.

      No comparison to alcohol, which is water soluble.

      • 0 avatar
        Big Al from Oz

        When I did my course for drug testing we were told that THC can stay for up to several months. Many modern “club drugs” vanish within a couple of days.

    • 0 avatar
      Big Al from Oz

      The Police use a system and process very similar to one I use. When they test you and you show a “positive” (pending) result, you then must have a blood test. Where I work if you resist the blood test you will lose your job.

      The results that we have is quite vague. Take opiates for example, it will show that you have some form of opiate in your system, but can’t detect which type. So, codeine, will give you the same signature as heroin.

      • 0 avatar

        @Big Al from Oz – the most common test for common street drugs (illicit or legal in origin) is a urine screen. It is basically a reagent strip dipped in a urine sample and it changes colour indicating a positive or negative. It can detect differences between some opiates/opioids. Codeine can give a false positive for heroin. There are other substances that can also give false positives. Poppy seeds can give a false positive for opiates but you’d have to eat a lot of them. Over the counter decongestants like Sudafed or Dristan can yield false positives for methamphetamines. Running a blood or urine sample through mass spectrometry is about the only really accurate way to test but not all labs have it.

        • 0 avatar
          Big Al from Oz

          That’s exactly true.

          We took urine samples. The tester would manage the lavatory and even check ensuring the toilet was not flushed.

          My last test I was a supervisor and we had new kits, but still based on urine samples. It was able to test 6 classes of drugs and discriminate more accurately. I moved up in the world and have not drug tested for 12 years. Technology changes.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      @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.

  • avatar

    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.

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