Canadian Police Wary About Newly-Approved Roadside Cannabis Test

police pull over car

As first reported in The Canadian Press, some police forces are hesitant to use a federally approved roadside marijuana test, raising questions about the government’s decision to give the devices the green light.

B.C. Has Cold Feet

Vancouver‘s police department is among those that won’t use the Drager Drug-Test 5000 when pot is legalized next month because it says the device doesn’t work in sub-zero temperatures, is bulky and takes too long to produce a sample.

We’re just not comfortable moving forward with this machine and we’re looking at other options,” said Sgt. Jason Robillard of the Vancouver Police Department.

Police in Delta, British Colombia, say their officers won’t use the device this year but the department has not come to a decision about 2019 and the provincial Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) of British Colombia, say no decisions have been made yet.

Mounties Rollout

The RCMP has taken the lead on training Canadian police officers, the training should be available prior to Oct. 17, when marijuana will be legal.

National RCMP spokeswoman Sgt. Marie Damian said, "the force will have a strategic, limited rollout of the device in consultation with provincial and municipal partners."

"Standardized field sobriety tests and drug recognition experts will continue to be the primary enforcement tools," Damian went on to say.

Justice Minister Defends Decision

Justice Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould defended the approval of the device in the Senate on Tuesday, September 25th. “It is not the only tool that law enforcement officers have. It’s an additional tool,” Minister Wilson-Raybould said. “There is a potential that in the future I will certify additional devices.”

"The Canadian Society of Forensic Science examined the machine and the public had an opportunity to give feedback," the Minister said in further defense.

Senator Calls Out "Disconnection" from Reality

Canadian Senator, Claude Carignan said police forces are being left with a false sense of security from the federal government" when they are not actually equipped enough for cannabis legalization.

She’s disconnected with the reality of what the police forces have in their toolbox,” Sen. Carignan said, referring to the justice minister.

Police Are Holding Off, But Not Worried

Halifax police have said, their department is not panicking about needing to use the screening device, noting the availability of other existing policing tools.

"There are expected to be more instruments approved in the future," added Halifax Constable John MacLeod.

“Rather than jumping at the first instrument, we are collecting all the information that we can to determine what would be the best tool to use,” Const. MacLeod said.

Edmonton, Alberta and Ottawa police are also holding off on using the Drager test.

“It is not no forever, it is just no for now,” said Ottawa Constable Amy Gagnon. “The one big concern is we have such a fluctuation in weather and the instrument specifications for temperature would be … an issue for us.”

Drager Company Disputes Claims

Rob Clark, managing director of Drager Canada, disputed criticisms of the device.

"It operates best between temperatures of 4 C and 40 C. But the main part of the machine, which does the analysis, remains in the police vehicle where it’s protected from the cold, Clark said.

Clark stressed the devices are merely "a screening tool, like a breathalyzer for alcohol, and the result does not provide the evidence to convict a driver. A blood test would be relied on in court," said Clark.

Litigation Seems Imminent

Kyla Lee, a criminal defense lawyer in Vancouver, said she intends to file a constitutional challenge of the devices as soon as police use one on a driver who wants to challenge it.

Lee said she bought a Drager Drug Test and tried it on herself, she said her device has police settings and was not set to zero tolerance.

 "The device produces very high rates of false positives," Lee asserted.

Norwegian Study Finds False Positives

A study published this year in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology examining the use of the Drager device in Norway said it produced “fairly large proportions of false-positive or false-negative results compared to drug concentrations in blood.”

The study found the proportion of false positives was 14.5 percent for cannabis.

However, the authors noted the Norwegian police say the test is still a “valuable tool” and has more than doubled the number of arrests.