Roadside Testing: the tools and their challenges


With cannabis legal, the government has taken steps to toughen laws targeting drug-related offences, including selling and distributing cannabis to youth and driving under its influence. The need to regulate cannabis on our roads has become a significant priority.

According to the Department of Justice, impaired driving is the leading criminal cause of death and injury in Canada, with over 69,000 impaired driving incidents reported by police in 2017, including almost 3,500 drug-impaired driving incidents. Moreover, 1 in 3 Canadians admit to having been a passenger in a car with a high driver.

In line with the stronger approach, Bill C-46 was introduced to establish penalties for impaired-driving offences, ranging from fines to imprisonment, depending on the situation.

There are two prohibited levels for THC (the main psychoactive component of cannabis): it’s a less serious offence if you have between 2 nanograms (ng) and 5 ng of THC per ml of blood and a much more serious offence if you have 5 ng of THC or more.

The law gives police the right to demand that drivers submit a sample of their saliva for roadside drug screening to detect the presence of drugs like cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana. When it was first introduced, the government promised that $161 million in funding would go towards police training and drug-testing equipment over the next five years, as well as a public awareness campaign focused on drug-impaired driving.

Then it introduced the Drager DrugTest 5000 – a saliva-screening tool that tests for THC. The equipment is now available to police across Canada, though the government has left it up to each police force to decide on the testing tools they’d like to use. The OPP had said it would invest in the federally approved roadside drug-screening equipment but that it wasn’t sure how many they would introduce on the roads.

That would all seem like positive forward movement, were it not for the fact that the Drager DrugTest 5000 has met with controversy. For one thing, it apparently doesn’t work in sub-zero temperatures. For another, it can take a while to produce a sample, which makes “simple” roadside tests inefficient, say its critics.

As the controversy continues, some police chiefs are refusing to use the device. But the federal government is standing by this tool, pointing to the fact that it was given the green light after scientific recommendations by the Drugs and Driving Committee.

Then there’s the question of whether any roadside test, whether through blood or saliva samples, is reliable when it comes to cannabis. Impairment and tolerance levels are dependent on so many variables, including the type of cannabis consumed. What’s more, a particular amount of cannabis can impair long-time users less than it does first-timers. Therefore, while drug tests can measure how much cannabis someone has in their system, they cannot tell how the drug is impacting their ability to function, goes the argument.

As a result, there has been a strong push of late to find a device that more objectively measures cannabis impairment. Until then, the police will continue to enforce impaired driving in the only way they can – using whatever tools their force has permitted.

Regardless of approach, the hope is that a greater awareness among drivers of the dangers inherent in cannabis-impairment will compel a strong deterrence to consumption before getting behind the wheel.

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article, please feel free to reach out me, David Levy, to obtain legal advice. You can contact me at 416-361-0117 or by e-mail at

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