New Brunswick

Saint John police prepare for legalized marijuana by increasing number of drug experts

With recreational cannabis set to become legal in October, the Saint John Police Force says it's preparing for an uptick in impaired driving.

7 police drug recognition experts have been trained, more are expected to join their ranks

Const. Travis Jones, who co-ordinates the drug recognition expert program, says there are many physical signs that officers will look for in their assessment of a driver. (Joseph Tunney/CBC)

With recreational cannabis set to become legal in October, the Saint John Police Force says it's preparing for an uptick in impaired driving.

Last fall, former police chief John Bates said attempts to crack down on impaired driving would be like "trying to drain an Olympic-sized pool with a garden hose in a rainstorm."

"If we're ready by 2018, I think it's going to be barely," Bates said before his retirement in April. "Once the legislation is passed, the burden of enforcing the law and ensuring public safety will fall to the front line police officer."

But there's been plenty of training going on since the former chief issued those warnings; seven police drug recognition experts have been trained, with more expected to join their ranks.

There are studies, however, that question the efficacy of the roadside test these officers would use to try to determine if someone is too high to drive.

Last fall, former police chief John Bates said attempts to crack down on impaired driving would be difficult, like "trying to drain an Olympic-sized pool with a garden hose in a rainstorm." (CBC)

Because there isn't a breathalyzer for pot, the drug recognition expert program co-ordinator says officers will look for different physical and behavioural cues to determine if someone is impaired.

A driver suspected of being high will undergo several tests and body scans, Const. Travis Jones said.

Some of these include:

  • standing on one foot
  • pupil size
  • body temperature
  • blood pressure
  • eye twitching, a condition that can be brought on by certain drugs

"Everything is factored in," Jones said. "The driving evidence, the interaction with the arresting officer."

These drug recognition officers can provide expert testimony, according to a February 2017 Supreme Court of Canada decision. It's unclear if that's yet happened elsewhere in Canada.

Recreational marijuana will become legal in Canada on Oct. 17. (CBC)

New Brunswick has also adopted a set of standards that would see 40 per cent of its patrol officers trained to conduct field sobriety tests, a shortened version of the drug expert's method of identifying high drivers.

In 2019, the province hopes to see that number climb to 50 per cent; right now, police say about 38 per cent of patrol officers can perform these tests.