The number of drug impaired diving offences have risen significantly in the province since 2008.

The Growth Op

July 26, 2019

Data released by Statistics Canada Monday shows the number of drug impaired driving offences in Saskatchewan increased in 2018 — and has been climbing steadily overall since 2008.

In 2008, 4.2 offences occurred per 100,000 people. In 2017, that number was 18.86 and in 2018 it rose to 21.6.

A representative from Statistics Canada wasn’t able to confirm if the legalization of cannabis last October might have something to do with the increase between 2017 and 2018 but said it’s possible that it’s a factor. The data only looks at all drug impaired offences, not just cannabis.

Andrew Murie, CEO of MADD Canada said he believes cannabis impaired driving rates were already high before this past year.

“The biggest problem is the police really didn’t have the training or the tools to apprehend them,” said Murie. “Now they’re starting to get some of that and it’s not a surprise the numbers are going up.”

He believes technology that goes beyond the oral fluid testers that are used by police will help law enforcement.

“We’re just at the tip of the iceberg as far as of police being trained,” he said. “What we should see over the next three to five years is those number of arrests continue to rise.”

He said testing people for cannabis in their system is not as easy as testing for alcohol.

“Alcohol is simple,” he said. “You have a breathalyzer, you test the person and then you charge them.”

Police forces across Canada currently use the Drager DrugTest 5000, a device which measures oral fluid to detect cannabis. Murie believes this technology is adequate, but there could be improvements, such as using a breath sample instead of having to collect oral fluid. Breath samples, he said, can be processed much quicker.

“There’s another version coming sometime down the road that will be much superior,” he said, comparing the evolution of cannabis testing devices with the way alcohol breathalyzers have evolved over the last few decades.

No one from any of Saskatchewan’s major police agencies — including the Regina Police Service, Saskatoon Police Service or RCMP — were available for comment on their reaction to the statistics Thursday, however the Regina Police Service (RPS) noted in March that it hadn’t seen a spike in offences. 

RPS only began logging cannabis-specific impaired driving offences in November because of the start of legalization. Prior to this, cannabis wasn’t separated from other drugs in terms of impaired driving offences.

According to the force, there have been no cannabis impaired driving offences since November, however, four offences were committed where both cannabis and alcohol were in the offenders’ system.

In the meantime, Murie said the problem remains that people are still continuing to drive while under the influence of cannabis. He added there’s an easy fix to solving that problem.

“Don’t do it,” said Murie. “If you didn’t have these people doing it, it wouldn’t be an issue.”

He said education is an important aspect, but that only goes so far.

“We educate all kinds of people and we give all kinds of information” he said. “But the bottom line (is) people still take chances. And until that behaviour stops … you need police, you need technology and you need enforcement.”