News / Edmonton

'Not the least bit prepared': Edmonton police brace for cannabis legalization

EPS Chief Rod Knecht says police won't be ready to deal with a potential uptick in drug-impaired driving

O.P.P. officers check vehicles at the 401 Eastbound in this file photo.

Carlos Osorio / Freelance

O.P.P. officers check vehicles at the 401 Eastbound in this file photo.

Edmonton police will not be ready to enforce cannabis-impaired driving laws in time for legalization, according to chief Rod Knecht.

In a year-end interview with Metro, Knecht said he expects to see an uptick in impaired driving in 2018 – but without tools to accurately test for pot the way breathalyzers test for alcohol, he doesn’t know how officers will deal with it.

“We are, quite frankly, not the least bit prepared for it,” he said.

“It’s going to make the life of the front-line police officer more challenging and more difficult, quite frankly, and I think it’s going to plug up the criminal justice system.

“I don’t think there’s a police chief in this country that would say we’re ready to go by July 1.”

July 1 is the date Prime Minister Justin Trudeau initially set for the legalization of cannabis for recreational use, though he has recently hinted the date could be pushed back.

To prepare for legalization, Public Safety Canada has been testing roadside oral fluid tests, which purport to detect the presence of marijuana or another drug.

Dr. Louis Francescutti, an Edmonton emergency room physician and professor in the University of Alberta’s school of public health, said those tests have been inconclusive so far.

Additionally, recent studies show a person can register THC in their bloodstream from second-hand smoke, which could complicate the results of a screening.

The federal government has proposed measuring the amount of THC in a driver’s bloodstream to determine impairment after it’s detected through the oral test, but Francescutti said that won’t hold up in court because the level of THC in a person’s blood does not directly correlate with impairment.

“It’s a real frickin’ nightmare,” he said.

Francescutti noted it’s a problem police are already dealing with, but he also expects it to worsen with legalization.

“Unless something miraculously happens within the next couple of months, there’s no way they’re going to be ready in July.”

Statistics Canada released a report last December that was the first to contain national drug-impaired driving numbers and court data.

About 3,000 of 75,000 impaired driving incidents reported by police across Canada in 2015 involved drugs, including seven that were fatal. Drug-impaired cases usually took twice as long to go through the courts, and were less likely than alcohol-impaired driving to result in a conviction.

Edmonton police said at the time that 40 to 50 per cent of impaired fatalities have a link to drugs, with many being a mixture of drugs and alcohol.

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