Tougher impaired driving laws come into effect in Sask. this weekend

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As of Saturday, anyone caught driving while under the influence of alcohol or drugs can have their licence suspended indefinitely and their vehicle seized for up to 60 days.

The harsher penalties for impaired drivers were passed by the Saskatchewan government this spring and come into effect Sept. 1.

The federal government recently passed legislation creating Criminal Code charges for driving while under the influence of marijuana. The new provincial legislation outlines the consequences drivers will face under the provincial Traffic Safety Act for committing those offences.

Minister responsible for SGI Joe Hargrave discusses changes to impaired driving laws in Saskatchewan on August 30, 2018.

Joe Hargrave, Minister Responsible for Saskatchewan Government Insurance, said it was important to get the new laws on the books prior to the legalization of marijuana on Oct. 17.

He said people need to know that, even though they can purchase and use marijuana after it is legalized, they cannot drive after consuming it.

“Legalized cannabis is coming — but so are your penalties for driving while impaired. So it’s not acceptable. There are people that think that it is acceptable to drive while high and it’s not, it’s just not. High is still a DUI,” Hargrave told reporters at a press conference Thursday.

Officers who suspect a driver is under the influence of drugs can pull the driver over and subject them to a roadside field test — the same test used to determine if a driver is under the influence of alcohol; it involves having the driver attempt to walk in a straight line and follow a pen with their eyes.

People who fail a field sobriety test will be taken to be examined by a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) who has been trained to recognize when someone is under the influence of drugs.

Moe said there will be 120 DREs in the province by the time marijuana is legalized.

Another option that will be available to officers who suspect a driver is under the influence of drugs is a roadside saliva test by a Draeger device, which tests for levels of THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

Hargrave said he’s not yet sure how many Draeger devices will be used by law enforcement agencies in Saskatchewan.

“We’re hoping to have that up and going here before Oct. 17. Not necessarily the full gamut of it, but we’re hoping to get that started fairly soon,” he said.

Under the new Saskatchewan legislation, drivers charged with driving while THC is in their system will receive an immediate licence suspension that will be in effect until their charges are resolved in court. Their vehicles will be seized for up to 60 days, and people convicted of charges could have their licences suspended for up to five years.

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