The federal government of Canada looks all set to approve a second device for testing drivers’ saliva for marijuana impairment.
Over the weekend, the federal government had posted a notice that it intends to approve the Abbott SoToxa for police forces to use. The device is now supposed to undergo a 30-day public consultation period before it can receive the final go-ahead.
The company has advertised SoToxa as a hand-held device that provides test results in less than 5 minutes. Notably, Abbott had acquired Alere, a Massachusetts-based corporation that has long manufactured saliva-testing drug devices, in 2017 for a whopping US$ 5.3 billion.
The approval process, though, has taken longer than expected. The process is being overseen by a specialized committee of the Canadian Society of Forensic Science, which makes a recommendation to the attorney general when it decides if a piece of equipment meets the government’s established guidelines and standards.
At present, the only saliva-testing device available with the police is the Draeger DrugTest 5000, which came into force in August last. Although the Draeger is now a regular on Canadian roads, many police officers are still skeptical about the reliability of its results, especially in cold weather. Furthermore, the police forces have been cautious about placing orders owing to the high cost of the equipment (about $6,000 each).
What’s disappointing though is the fact that none of the saliva-testing devices can tell the level of impairment in a driver. The device just decides whether marijuana was recently consumed or not. If the sample tests positive, then the officers take the call as to which route they should proceed further- either by making a demand for a drug recognition evaluation or for a blood sample.
This is rather a major setback in the testing process and can lead to ‘conflicts’ because of varying provincial rules. For instance, a Nova Scotia woman who recently failed the roadside saliva test and yet passed the subsequent testing for impairment has reportedly said that she plans to file a constitutional challenge against the provincial penalties, which saw her license suspended and her car impounded.
Notably, despite various devices available at disposal, police can still arrest drivers for suspected drug-impaired driving without the saliva test. For it, they can use a standardized field sobriety test, which involves basic tasks, like walking in a straight line.