The Supreme Court of Canada announced today it will hear a case looking at methods for identifying drug-impaired drivers.
It’s the kind of move that is becoming all the more pressing as Ottawa prepares to legalize marijuana.
But are police equipped for the job?
“What we’re working on is a breathalyzer very similar to the alcohol breathalyzer – if a police officer has grounds to believe somebody is impaired by marijuana, they would have grounds to demand a breath sample. Currently the police don’t have a tool to collect evidence of drug impairment.”
Malhi says there’s a big gap in enforcement tools when it comes to pot and driving – blood and urine tests work, but aren’t convenient at the roadside.
“Currently charges for drug impaired driving are based solely on the officer’s observations and opinions. And the courts don’t stand very strongly behind those observations.”
He says as a result of that, there have yet to be successful charges of marijuana impaired driving laid.
Adding to the arsenal
Malhi says the new tool would work just like a regular breathlyzer, but would catch trace amounts of THC – the psychoactive chemical in marijuana.
He says THC can only be detected from the lungs within two hours of being ingested – that is, while the driver is actually high. He says blood and saliva tests can hold traces for days, which has allowed them to be thrown out of court in other countries.
Malhi says he’s currently testing prototypes with the University of Florida – and are up to about 80% accuracy.
But he says there’s been plenty of pressure to speed the project up.
“We’ve been innundated with calls from various law enforcement agencies – especially in states where it has been legalized like Colorado and Washington. With legalization there has to be some balances and checks, and one of those checks is enforcement.”
He says he’d love to get it to market within 18 months, but regulations mean it could take a fair bit longer – they’ll need to be able to independently prove that it’s 100% accurate, and get it legally certified as a court approved tool.