Canadian drivers get ready to say “Ahhhh!” for THC saliva tests

Devices that can test the level of THC (and cocaine) in saliva will soon be coming to a Canadian cop near you as federal Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould has just given a German-made drug-testing device a 30-day notice of approval.

These devices give police a new tool to check for drug-impaired driving as previously, authorities had to rely on field sobriety tests to determine impairment. Hypothetically, the devices will be more accurate and easier to use- much like breathalyzers for alcohol- but they aren’t without controversy.

While there are already multiple types of these devices on the market, the one about to be approved by the government is known as the Draeger DrugTest 5000, and are already used in a few European countries.

Why saliva tests and THC limits are controversial

The mere existence of such devices has stirred up controversy because impairment from THC is not as easy to prove as impairment from alcohol, and these devices will be able to detect if drivers used cannabis up to 6-8 hours prior.

This raises the questions- if you smoked a joint 6 hours ago, are you impaired? And what happens if you test positive for THC?

These are particularly important issues because how THC is absorbed by your body and stays in your system differs widely from alcohol, so even though the government is adding arbitrary THC levels into law, you can expect the reliability of these tests, and whether they prove impairment or not, to be challenged in court.

These limits, known as “per se” limits, means that if you test over a certain amount of THC, you can be charged automatically, without having to further prove impairment, much like if you blow over 0.08 on a breathalyzer.

If you’re caught driving with a THC level between 2-5 nanograms per 100 mL of blood, you’re looking at a maximum fine of $1000. If you’re over 5 ng, you’re looking at a $1000 minimum fine for a first offence. For second and third offences, you’re looking at 30 and 120 days in jail, respectively.

Also, if you’re caught mixing your THC and alcohol (with a THC level over 2.5 ng and a blood alcohol concentration over 0.05), you’re looking at the same penalties as having a THC level over 5 ng.

What other changes can we expect with Bill C-46?

Bill C-46 was created in tandem with Bill C-45, aka the Cannabis Act, because the government expects drug-impaired driving to increase with the legalization of cannabis.

That’s why Bill C-46 gives police increased powers to test for impaired driving and sets out stricter penalties that will affect cannabis users and non-users alike.

Beginning in December, police will no longer need reasonable suspicion to demand a breathalyzer test, although reasonable suspicion will be required to demand a saliva sample.

The maximum sentence for drug-impaired driving has also been doubled from 5 to 10 years,

So, what can you do to obey the law?

Banking on a case of cotton-mouth to get you out giving a saliva sample won’t work, and with the devices being able to detect up to 6-8 hours after use, the only way to be completely safe is to wait that long before you get behind the wheel.

But that is ridiculous and only promotes that fallacy that cannabis is somehow more dangerous than alcohol. Here’s hoping that the government’s recently announced $1 million study into the effects of cannabis-impaired driving can clear up the confusion once and for all when it concludes sometime in 2021.

But why did the Liberal government wait until 2018 to launch this 3-year study on cannabis and driving, especially when they were elected back in 2015? If only they’d started when they were newly elected, we could have avoided this situation where Canadians are facing imprisonment over arbitrarily set THC limits, where we’re not even sure if it means impairment. Talk about putting the cart in front of the horse!

Thank god some places like Ontario have carved out sensible allowances for medical patients based on the officer’s discretion, but that still leaves all the recreational users out of luck.

Featured image courtesy of USADraeger.


Daily Hive: Canada just introduced several new impaired driving laws that are super strict.

National Post: Federal government set to approve first device for testing drivers’ saliva for cannabis.