The Kitimat RCMP are now able to conduct field sobriety tests to determine whether drivers are driving under the influence of cannabis. Photo Gerry Leibel

Kitimat RCMP ready to test for drivers under the influence of pot

“Like standardized field sobriety tests, drug recognition is observation-based.”

Kitimat RCMP already have two impaired driving investigations underway in which drugs are suspected to have had an influence on a vehicle driver.

The investigations follow the recent training of a Kitimat RCMP officer to become a drug recognition expert.

Const. Jordan Chaplin was chosen because of his experience in field testing drivers suspected of being under the influence of alcohol, says Kitimat RCMP detachment commander Graham Morgan.

It’s in preparation for the coming legalization of non-medical cannabis later this year with the subsequent potential for more people driving under the influence of the narcotic.

“We do recognize the laws are changing and want to be prepared for the possible increase in impaired driving by drugs,” said Morgan of the national police force.

“He spent two weeks on the downtown east side [Vancouver] in practical training,” noted Morgan of Chaplin.

The drug recognition training moves past the existing standardized field sobriety testing officers now conduct on suspected impaired drivers.

That testing involves having an officer examine a person’s eyes and then having the person walk and turn and stand on one leg.

Drug recognition follows with a 12-step procedure that involves everything from a breath test to rule out alcohol, to the person being interviewed to checking for needle injection marks.

“Like standardized field sobriety tests, drug recognition is observation-based,” said Morgan of the specialized training.

And through his training, Chaplin will be consulted by other officers who have arrested suspected drug-impaired drivers.

Although there is not any testing equipment in place to determine the level of cannabis in a person’s blood similar to the line of breathalyzers to determine blood alcohol levels, a urine sample or blood sample can be taken and sent to a lab, the results of which are combined with the drug recognition expert’s findings to support any criminal charge.

For its part, the federal government has introduced companion legislation, Bill C-46, to Bill C-45, its legalization legislation, which sets out levels of THC, the psychoactive compound in cannabis, and monetary fines for exceeding those levels.

A driver found to have a THC level between 2 and 5 nanograms per millimetre of blood, for example, faces a fine of up to $1,000 while a level above 5 nanograms would result in a fine of $1,000 for a first offence and higher amounts for repeat offences.

Morgan did say officers can now issue 24-hour driving prohibitions as it is under provincial administrative penalties.

And the province is introducing a 90-day driving prohibition for drivers found to be impaired by cannabis as part of its wide-ranging series of initiatives in preparation for the legalization of non-medical use of the narcotic.

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