Postmedia file photo
City police are preparing for law changes this summer in terms of recreational marijuana usage. One area police will be focussing on is the ability to recognize motorists who are under the influence of the drug.

With the legalization of recreational marijuana looming on the horizon, local law enforcement aren’t letting the grass grow under their feet.

One of the largest concerns for city police is a potential increase in the amount of impaired motorists on the road.

“If a lot more people are using it, or openly using it, we’re going to have those issues of how do we deal with the people that are putting other people at risk by driving under the influence of marijuana?” said Belleville Police Staff Sgt. Rene Aubertin.

“As far as it goes for the other stuff, the possession laws are just going to change. Until that does, as of today we treat everything the same as we always have because that’s what the law is today. And when the laws change, we’ll address it accordingly.”

While distracted driving has outpaced drunk driving as a cause of vehicle collisions in the past few years, the addition of a new legal intoxicant means police need to be prepared by the July 1 legalization date.

“There’s a lot of training that’s going to be coming for street cops in Ontario about the changes and about how we’re going to go about the enforcing of impaired driving in Ontario,” said Const. Brad Stitt, Belleville’s senior traffic officer.

“Anytime legislation changes it takes a little bit of time to get people comfortable with the changes. I think we’re like every other police service in the province,” he continued.

“There are drastic changes coming to the legislation and we’re introducing an entirely new substance which on the 30th of June is illegal and on the first of July is going to be legal.

“For many of us, we’ve spent our entire career with that substance being illegal and there’s going to be an adjustment when recreational cannabis becomes legal.”

In preparation, the provincial government is changing provincial sanctions to make being impaired by marijuana mirror being impaired by the consumption of alcohol. As well, it will be an offence for a novice driver, a young driver, or anyone operating a commercial motor vehicle to have any presence of drugs in their system.

When it comes to testing to see whether a driver is impaired from the use of marijuana, Stitt said it’s not as cut and dried as the current testing for alcohol.

A roadside screening device for alcohol gives officers a number indicating the amount of alcohol in that person’s system and whether it’s lawful, ‘warn’ or at fail levels.

“That’s not what we’re going to see with the oral fluid screening device. It’s simply going to show presence or not presence of these intoxicating drugs,” said Stitt.

The tests would conceivably use an oral fluid screening device capable of analyzing a swab from the inside of a person’s mouth for a number of different street drugs.

If, after legalization passes, marijuana is detected in a driver’s system officers would then need to rely on a standardized field sobriety test to determine if they are actually impaired or not.

“It is one of the tools that police officers have been using and will be using more and more in the world of recreational marijuana to detect those people who are under the influence of cannabis,” said Stitt.

“Once an officer has formed grounds, then there’s going to be a couple of different avenues available to the officer about utilizing a drug recognition expert officer or making a blood demand based upon that.”

Training courses are being conducted throughout the province leading up to the July 1 anticipated legalization date. Training is expected to continue through the summer and into the fall to get as many officers trained as possible to conduct standardized field sobriety tests.

Stitt said they’re doing everything they can do make Belleville the safest community in Ontario and are working diligently with the Ontario Police College and other partners to bring officers up to speed on the changes.

“We will be ready on July 1 for the changes and we look forward to working in 2018 to make our roads safe.”

Source: The Belleville Intelligencer