Montreal

Quebec police officers could soon test drivers' saliva for cannabis

Quebec's Public Security Ministry says it will offer financial support for police in Quebec who want to purchase a device that tests drivers' saliva for THC, the active ingredient in cannabis. But the test is not without critics.

Drager DrugTest 5000 tests drivers' saliva for THC, the active ingredient in cannabis

The Drager DrugTest 5000 tests drivers' saliva for THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, which becomes legal for recreational use on Oct. 17. (Bill Alkofer/The Orange County Register/SCNG via AP)

Police forces in Quebec could soon be using a new drug testing device to enforce laws against driving under the influence of cannabis, thanks to a go-ahead from the federal government.

The Drager DrugTest 5000 tests drivers' saliva for THC, the active ingredient in cannabis, which becomes legal for recreational use nation-wide on Oct. 17.

Quebec's Public Security Ministry says it will offer financial support for police in Quebec who want to purchase the machines, and will begin work over the next few weeks to offer the necessary training to allow police to use the device appropriately.

"Work to develop and provide the necessary training for police forces to properly utilize this new tool will begin in the coming weeks," ministry spokesperson Louise Quintin said in an email.

On Monday, the federal government approved the Drager device as the first saliva screening equipment to be used by law enforcement for THC tests.

Some activists are critical of the decision, arguing the method of testing is ineffective.

Cannabis becomes legal for recreational use nation-wide on Oct. 17. (Evan Mitsui/CBCNews)

Heather D'Alessio, who is on the board of directors at Canadian Students for Sensible Drug Policy, said the device doesn't work in temperatures below 4 C.

"It can't test for impairment, it can only test for THC in the system, which can stay in your system for days or even weeks on end," D'Alessio told CBC Montreal's Daybreak

​She added that false positives or negatives can occur.

'For an officer with a suspicion'

Quebec City Liberal MP Joël Lightbound, who has been working on the federal government's cannabis legislation, said the device is only an additional tool to law enforcement to test for the presence of THC.

"The saliva test is only for an officer with a suspicion," Lightbound said. "It can be grounds for further testing. It would not lead to a criminal offence [on its own]."

He said the federal government approved the device based on recommendations from the Canadian Society of Forensic Science.

Montreal police say they plan to wait for further guidance from the Public Security Ministry before deciding whether to buy the machines, which cost about $6,000 each.

Quebec provincial police say that with the federal government's approval, the organization is looking into purchasing the devices and that the evaluation process is ongoing.

SQ officers are not trained to use Drager devices, and spokesperson Audrey-Anne Bilodeau said there are other ways to check drivers for drugs, including roadside behaviour tests.

Quebec City police don't have Drager devices at the moment either, spokesperson Cindy Paré said. 

"We have our own methods of detecting when people are affected by drugs," Paré said. These mostly include detecting signs and symptoms. Paré said the methods are precise.  

Prevention vs. reaction

D'Alessio says many young people have a misconception that cannabis can't impair as much as alcohol does.

"Especially with the number of cannabis products on the market right now, with edibles and concentrates, some of those products make you very high and you really need to be equipped with the decision-making and the knowledge prior to getting in the vehicle," D'Alessio said.

The Drager devices are what D'Alessio calls reactionary measures, and she thinks some of the focus should be put on preventative measures, too.

"[They should be] making sure people understand the risks associated with driving high … rather than arresting people after the fact," she said.

To do this she suggested investing in public campaigns, reaching out to schools and universities and collaborating with anti-drunk driving campaigns.

Lightbound echoed D'Alessio's point.

"There is in the young population a sense of impunity when it comes to driving under the influence of drugs," he said.

He said the government is trying to make it clear that impaired driving of any kind is a criminal offence.

"We need to have the same approach and the same motivation when it comes to other drugs."

With files from CBC Montreal Daybreak

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?

now