Police testing, finding more drug-impaired drivers
Through the first third of 2016, Waterloo Regional Police have charged a dozen drivers with drug impairment offences.
That may not sound like a lot, but it’s more than were even evaluated for signs of drug impairment over the entire 12 months of 2015.
In that timespan, Staff Sgt. Jim Strand said Monday, nine drivers were evaluated for signs of drug impairment.
“Six or seven” of those drivers ended up being charged, Strand said.
That’s a greater hit rate than police have seen so far this year. Strand said that the 12 charges had resulted from a total of 22 drivers being evaluated for signs of drug use.
By way of contrast, police have conducted 182 breathalyzer tests for signs of alcohol impairment.
In general, Strand says, police are looking for the same indicators of impairment whether the cause is alcohol or another drug.
“They look for physical symptoms, they look for an odour, they look for things that are out of the norm,” he said.
While drivers found to be impaired by marijuana or other drugs can face criminal charges, they cannot lose their licence – which is a risk for drivers impaired by alcohol.
That is expected to change when a new law takes effect this fall, and could change again next spring when the federal government introduces legislation decriminalizing marijuana.
Jesse Wilson, who uses marijuana daily, says he doesn’t think drivers under the influence of marijuana are as dangerous as drunk drivers – but doesn’t want to see people get behind the wheel after taking either substance.
He says he expects the government to introduce some sort of legal limit for marijuana, similar to the one already in place for alcohol.
What he questions is what rules will be in effect for somebody who uses the drug for legitimate medicinal purposes.
“They still need to do their daily stuff, but they need to be medicated while they do it,” he said.
“Are you really going to arrest them for operating a vehicle?”
Strand says police have been working for several years to improve officers’ ability to recognize signs of drug impairment, and now have a drug recognition officer present every time a RIDE checkpoint is set up.
He also agrees with Wilson on one point – that drivers are safest when they have no drugs of any kind in their system.