Edmonton·Video

Alberta RCMP want 1 in 3 officers trained to test for cannabis impairment by 2020

With cannabis becoming legal in less than a week, the Alberta RCMP says it’s on track to reach its target of having one third of its members trained to carry out field sobriety tests by 2020.

Alberta RCMP will have four roadside testing machines in use to check for cannabis impairment

RCMP Corporal Richard Nowak, right, puts RCMP spokesperson Logan Fraser through a sobriety test. (Min Dhariwal CBC)

With cannabis becoming legal in less than a week, the Alberta RCMP says it's on track to reach its target of having one third of its members trained to carry out field sobriety tests by 2020.

"We currently have over 400 officers trained in Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST), and 42 Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) trained," Chief Supt. Brad Mueller said during a news conference at K Division on Friday. "Our goal by the end of 2020 would be to have close to 1200 officers trained."

Dräger ​DrugTest 5000

In Alberta, the RCMP operates 113 detachments with more than 4,200 employees.

Many of those officers will undergo training for the new roadside testing as well as becoming Drug Recognition Experts.  They will also be trained to use one of four Dräger DrugTest 5000, which have been acquired by K Division to be used across the province. 

On the manufacturer's website the machine is touted as an "easy to use"  drug screening system that uses "oral fluid" to test for the most common drugs. 

"They will be strategically deployed across the province, " added Mueller. "We've undergone the initial stages to train our officers in the use of those devices and once we secure them we'll begin the deployment and go forward with the enforcement action around them." 

But the Dräger 5000 has been questioned for its accuracy. The machine tests saliva for the presence of THC, but a study published in February in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, based on the use of the device in Norway, showed the Dräger 5000 could produce false-positive results. The device also doesn't work that well in cold temperatures. 

"Obviously we'd have to make sure it's contained within an environment where it doesn't result in the temperature of the instrument dropping below the designated level," added Mueller

"A checkstop van would be a perfect example where we could have those instruments inside it's in a controlled temperature and environment and it could be used without any limitations," said Mueller 

While the RCMP say they're confident and ready, defence lawyers are standing by as well, anticipating clients who may wish to challenge the new law. 

"Investigating drug impaired files for eons now"

"You just look at it and your imagination already starts to go wild," said criminal lawyer Shannon Gunn Emery. "We're going to be looking over that law with a fine tooth comb and watching how it's implemented, seeing what the officers do with it." 

While the science behind alcohol testing it is well developed, Gunn Emery feels the testing for cannabis is still questionable. 
The Alberta RCMP say they are prepared to monitor drivers once recreational cannabis becomes legal. 0:58

However, officers who are trained to carry out roadside tests, say they've been charging drivers for driving high behind the wheel for years and the addition of the Dräger 5000 will give them another tool to confirm their suspicions. 

"It's another screening device that will be deployed out in the field," said Sgt. Brent Robinson.

"We've been investigating drug impaired files for eons now, what's changed with the legalization of cannabis is now all of a sudden it's in the public eye." 

To prepare fo the legalization of cannabis on Oct. 17, the RCMP says it has increased officers in the areas of prevention and engagement, intelligence, security screening and training.

"Police have used various investigative techniques to determine sobriety since the 1920s," said Insp. Steve Daley with K Division traffic services.

"Keeping roads and highways safe for all Albertans has always been a vital part of the provincial policing mandate."

The RCMP hosted a news conference on Friday afternoon to talk about the impact of cannabis on drivers and the police service and what techniques are already in place to determine if someone is driving under the influence of drugs, or a combination of alcohol and drugs combined. 

RCMP also held an interactive demonstration of a drug-impaired driving Checkstop with a civilian member being put through several tests.