Edmonton police expect roadside testing for pot to cost $300,000 annually

Edmonton police project that roadside saliva testing when pot is legalized will cost $300,000 annually, though the actual testing devices have not yet been approved for use in Canada.

“It’s a high cost but it’s necessary if you want to test that specific enough to differentiate between different drugs,” said Supt. Al Murphy from the police service’s legalization of cannabis committee.

“It’s an unfortunate necessity of this, but I think it would be expected of us to have tests that are appropriate and acceptable by the courts.”

Murphy shared that figure with the Edmonton Police Commission on Thursday as part of a presentation that puts the total cost of policing pot in Edmonton at $1.4 million in 2018.

EPS’s request for funding was approved by city council during a supplementary operating budget adjustment on April 10, Murphy said.

The proposed budget comes two years after the committee first began its work to prepare for the legalization of cannabis, which was initially expected in July but now faces delays.

Murphy said saliva tests, which identity the active ingredient in pot known as tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, could cost between  $75 and $100 each. EPS expects to conduct about 4,000 tests a year, based on a similar number of roadside alcohol tests conducted annually, at a cost of 15 cents each.

“We wanted to inform the City of Edmonton of the potential of the high end for costs, so that everybody was properly informed of what that could be, although it could be less,” said Murphy.

If cannabis is legalized before the tests are approved, Murphy said officers will rely on members trained to conduct specialized field sobriety tests and on drug recognition experts whose expertise is accepted by the courts. Currently, urine tests confirm those results. But under new legislation suspects will be expected to provide blood samples instead.

Murphy said the roadside tests will be “an additional tool for police” to “increase the efficiency of those investigations,” because the results are immediate.

Clandestine laboratory team

The 2018 cannabis budget also pays for the training of officers, which is already underway. According to federal guidelines, one-third of all frontline field officers are trained to conduct specialized field sobriety tests, and six drug recognition experts for every 100,000 residents are required, said Murphy.

Police forces have until 2022 to comply with those guidelines.

Money will be invested in training for members of the service’s already existing “clandestine laboratory team” as well.

The team investigates operations that extract oils from cannabis plants using “a chemical process that can be quite dangerous” because of potential explosions or exposure to chemicals,” Murphy said.

“Our police officers will be going into homes that they’re called to and they won’t know when these things exist,” he said. “So it’s important that they’re trained to recognize the risks and understand how to deal with those.”

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