Sask. drug-related roadside driving suspensions in 2021 a sixfold increase over 2 years ago

SGI says that 523 drivers last year had their vehicles seized after they tested positive for THC on roadside tests.

Device checks for presence of THC, not impairment

Sgt. Patrick Barbar in the police mobile lab. The SoToxa testing device is on the table. (Dan Zakreski/CBC)

SGI says 523 drivers last year failed roadside drug tests, and had their vehicles seized and licences suspended for three days.

This compares with 190 suspensions in 2020 and 76 in 2019.

This spike does not mean that six times more drivers were on the road impaired than two years ago. Rather, it simply means they'd consumed cannabis at some point and enough THC — the active ingredient in cannabis — remained in their system to trigger a fail on a saliva test.

Staff Sgt. Patrick Barbar says police in Saskatoon will request a driver take the test if they suspect impairment. This could be because a driver smells heavily of cannabis smoke, shows physical signs (red eyes, for example) or is driving in a suspicious manner.

There are 12 SoToxa devices available to officers. They analyze an oral swab to test for the presence of THC.

"Provincial legislation actually calls for roadside suspensions with the mere presence of THC, so there's no judgment there," he said.

"Either it's there or it's not, right? But in terms of moving to phase 2, a criminal code investigation, that's where discretion and judgment comes in."

Barbar said an officer may decide that a driver, although testing positive for THC, is not impaired to the point of not being able to drive. For instance, they may take a field sobriety test and pass.

Their vehicle would still be seized and their license suspended, but the matter would end there.

Barbar says the reality with zero tolerance is that drivers should not get behind the wheel with any level of impairing drugs in their system that is detectable by a screening device.

"THC has a shorter lifespan in saliva than it does in urine or blood," he said. "For most people, THC will no longer be present in oral fluid after 12-24 hours."

He said this means someone is highly unlikely to fail a test if they use cannabis on a Saturday, and drive to work on a Monday. 

Barbar also noted that police can only conduct oral fluid tests or SFST if they have reason to suspect recent cannabis consumption.

"If someone had used cannabis 48 hours ago, for example, that suspicion would not exist and a test could not be conducted," he added.


  • A previous version of this story stated there were 76 suspensions in 2020. In fact, there were 190 suspensions in 2020 and 76 in 2019.
    May 02, 2022 6:13 PM CT


Dan Zakreski is a reporter for CBC Saskatoon.