According to data released by the Saskatchewan Government Insurance (SGI), 523 drivers failed roadside drug tests, and had their vehicles seized and licences suspended for three days in 2021. Compared to data collected in 2020, these numbers correspond to a six-fold increase.
However, SGI has noted that this increase does not mean that six times more impaired drivers were on the road compared to two years ago. Rather, it simply means that the drivers tested had consumed cannabis at some point and enough tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, stayed in their system for them to test positive on a saliva test.
According to Staff Sgt. Patrick Barbar, Saskatoon police will request a driver to take the test if impairment is suspected, such as in cases where the driver strongly smells of cannabis smoke, shows physical signs of impairment, or is driving in a suspicious manner.
Currently, there are 12 SoToxa devices available to officers that analyze oral swabs to test for the presence of THC.
“Provincial legislation actually calls for roadside suspensions with the mere presence of THC, so there’s no judgment there,” said Sgt. Barbar in his interview with CBC News. “Either it’s there or it’s not, right? But in terms of moving to phase 2, a criminal code investigation, that’s where discretion and judgment comes in.”
Barbar added that an officer may decide that a driver, although testing positive for THC, is not impaired to the point of not being able to drive, such as when the driver takes a field sobriety test and passes it.
While their vehicle would still be seized and their license would become suspended in this case, the investigation would not be pursued further. In addition, Sgt. Barbar noted that drivers should not get behind the wheel with any level of impairing drugs in their system that is detectable by a screening device due to the province’s zero-tolerance policy for impaired driving.
“THC has a shorter lifespan in saliva than it does in urine or blood,” said Sgt. Barbar. “For most people, THC will no longer be present in oral fluid after 12-24 hours.” He added that someone is highly unlikely to fail a test if they use cannabis on a Saturday, and then drive to work on a Monday, also noting that police can only conduct oral fluid tests or SFST if they have reason to suspect recent cannabis consumption.
“If someone had used cannabis 48 hours ago, for example, that suspicion would not exist and a test could not be conducted,” said Sgt. Barbar.