Editorial: Are police ready for legal weed?

A combination of drug tests and trained experts will deal with impaired driving, will it be enough?

The rollout of federal marijuana legalization appears to be moving without proper planning for enforcement of drug-impaired driving, a recent story in The Tri-City News suggests.

In the article, it was noted that a roadside screening device for cannabis is being touted while serious questions remain about its reliability.

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Some police departments are declining to use it, including Port Moody's, which prefers for the time being to use its own sobriety test and trained experts.

Drug screening devices will be deployed to RCMP detachments but in limited numbers, and it’s not known whether Coquitlam RCMP will be among them, but it is likely local Mounties have their own experts and sobriety tests.

The question is whether the equipment is adequate to the task — that task includes identifying impaired drivers but, just as importantly, not taking licences or freedom from those who don't deserve it.

Police are right to adopt use of devices slowly and to question whether they are reliable because defence lawyers are already preparing cases that could get their clients off because of doubts about these systems.

And according to a lawyer well-versed in these issues, these devices appear clunky and could produce false positives.

One problem is how invasive they are and how long it takes to get a result. For example, a person has to swab their own mouth for a few minutes — time-consuming and awkward at best, especially if someone is impaired — and then the sample has to sit level for awhile to get results.

There is also inadequate public information about how marijuana metabolizes in the body and how long someone needs to go without ingesting the drug before they are safe to drive — one hour, two hours, overnight?

These questions and more need to be fully addressed before we implement measures that could affect people's freedom and even jobs.

And while legalization of marijuana is scheduled for one week from today, it is truly untested ground for British Colombians who need and want assurances that they will be safe on the road and safe from unfair prosecution.

The federal and provincial governments need to step up their communication of this impending issue while ensuring that test cases don’t end up making drug-impaired driving enforcement a useless task.

The goal should be to protect drivers and to give the police the tools they need to do their job properly and fairly.

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