MEDICINE HAT, AB – While the City of Medicine Hat looks at rules surrounding cannabis use ahead of legalization, it’s the Medicine Hat Police Service that will be tasked with enforcing the laws.
This includes monitoring roadways, as police will be looking for more drivers who may be under the influence of marijuana.
It’s a new era in terms of policing and according to Insp. Joe West, they’re preparing for a potential increase in the number of motorists driving high.
“We think as cannabis becomes normalized there could be an increase, however it's really an unknown at this time,” said West.
One way to check for drug impairment will be through a device called the Draeger DrugTest 5000, which is the only roadside screening device approved by the federal government.
Each unit is pegged at $5,000 a piece with test strips running $40 each, with Medicine Hat Police originally committed to purchasing two units.
However, Sgt. Clarke White with the Traffic Unit said they’re now holding off on the roadside tester.
“No one has put it into practice yet, so we'll probably wait and see,” said White. “There will be some police services that choose to and we will be in consultation with them to see how it's going, if there is any challenges.”
Local police also have concerns surrounding the device’s ability to operate and display at cold temperatures.
White added they’re choosing to wait until either the costly device is proven effective or newer models hit the market.
“We need to be confident in the tools that we're using to determine impairment,” he said. “And if we're not confident in that yet, then we got to look for other options.”
In the interim, police will continue to use their standard field sobriety testing as their primary roadside screening method.
White said they’re comfortable with using their current protocols in determining whether someone is impaired behind the wheel.
“It is a good way to determine impairment and to obtain the evidence that's required for prosecution,” he said. “So, as long as necessary, we'll be continuing to use those practices.”
Preparing for legalization, training has been ramped up as the department has a goal of training at least 33 percent of front line officers in drug detection.
White said they’re also looking to increase the number of drug recognition experts, who deal with suspects after they’ve been arrested on suspicion of impairment.
“We've also trained so far one member of the Medicine Hat Police Service as a drug recognition expert and we have plans for more on the horizon,” he said.
Rules surrounding outdoor cannabis use remain foggy, as City Council is still crafting their public use bylaw.
While that presents a challenge, West said they’ll adapt to whatever the City decides.
“Our job is to enforce the laws and educate people about the laws,” he said. “So, whatever those may be, the police service will adjust and follow suit.”
As for Medicine Hat Police’s internal marijuana policy, they’ll be clarifying their framework ahead of legalization later this week.
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