With marijuana legalization in Canada coming in October, police forces across the country – including Sudbury – have expressed concerns about the training they'll need to detect stoned drivers.
Unlike alcohol, there are no roadside tests used in Canada to determine whether a driver have recently smoked pot. Greater Sudbury Police Chief Paul Pedersen has repeatedly sounded the alarm that legalization is looming, but the bulk of the local force has yet to be trained on detecting whether a driver is high on drugs.
There are 264 local police officers who still need training, Pedersen said earlier this year. That's a considerable time commitment when officers already have a number of annual training requirements during a calendar year, plus the day-to-day job of policing the community.
"These are the questions that have not been answered,” Pedersen said at the time. “When you hear me getting frustrated, it's frustration because there's anxiety when the answers aren't known.
“We don't have a part-time work force. When we take people away to train them, we're taking them away from front-line duties, which impacts our ability to deliver on the expectations of the communities we serve."
But reports this past weekend out of the U.S. say a company in California has created a roadside test it says can determine whether a driver has smoked marijuana within the last two hours.
Two hours is considered the time period when someone who has smoked pot is the most impaired.
"We are trying to make the establishment of impairment around marijuana rational and to balance fairness and safety," Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn is quoted as saying in the National Public Radio story Aug. 4.
Similar to the breathalyzer used to detect drunk drivers, the Hound Breathalyzer has users blow into the device for 30 seconds. Indicator bars show whether the device detects THC in the breath sample. THC is the compound in marijuana that gets users high.
"When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours," Lynn is quoted as saying in the story. "And we don't want to have people driving during that time period or, frankly, at a work site in a construction zone."
The device can also be used as a breathalyzer for alcohol, meaning police wouldn't have to carry two devices to conduct roadside tests.
While there are some devices on the market that can determine whether someone has smoked marijuana recently, they can't determine how recently or whether the user is still impaired, since THC can stay in the blood for as long as 30 days.
Field testing of the device is expected to begin this fall, with a handful of American police departments taking part. Even if everything goes smoothly, the device isn't expected to be on the market before 2019. That's well past October of this year, when legalization is to take place in Canada.