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Riding high: Tougher penalties now in place for drug-impaired drivers

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Troy Shantz

Sarnia Police say they are ready to enforce a new provincial law that can cost motorists their licence if caught driving high.

As of Oct. 2, drivers under the influence of drugs face an immediate three-day licence suspension, a $180 fine and, following further testing, a possible 90-day licence suspension.

But unlike alcohol, there is no universally accepted roadside test for marijuana impairment, which is where things get hazy.

Const. John Sottosanti said until a proven and available drug detection device becomes available Sarnia Police will rely on a specially trained officer called a Drug Recognition Expert, or DRE.

“He’s been trained to determine if the person is actually impaired by drugs, and to make a determination of what type of drug the person has taken,” Sottosanti said.

“The final step of the whole process involves that a urine sample be taken and sent off for testing.”

As Ottawa inches closer to legalizing recreational marijuana use, police departments are working to improve their methods of detecting roadside impairment.

RCMP in Vancouver are testing Breathalyzer-like devices able detect trace amounts of THC, the active chemical in marijuana, in a person’s saliva.

“Such devices can aid in the identification and apprehension of drug-impaired drivers and are becoming increasingly commercially available and are currently being used in other countries,” the RCMP said in a statement.

Officers ask drivers to stick out their tongue and saliva is taken with an instrument similar to a tongue depressor.

But until that becomes a reality here Sarnia Police will rely on humans to recognize the telltale signs.

“We get constant updating and training from our DRE in regards to what to look for, what to expect, and what to do,” said Sottosanti, noting roadside tests and observations can generally establish if a driver is using drugs.

“As the road officers, they have the basic knowledge to bring them forward to the DRE, who has knowledge to make a positive or negative determination.”

In addition to the new penalties under the Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act, drivers can still face criminal impaired driving charges that can ultimately result in loss of licence, additional fines and jail time.

Something for recreational marijuana users to keep in mind, Sottosanti said.

“Just because marijuana may become legal doesn’t mean you can operate a vehicle and be impaired by it.”



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