OTTAWA — The company behind the second machine that could be approved for roadside drug tests in Canada says its product is faster and easier to use for police wary about the technology.
Six months after the federal government legalized cannabis for recreational use, officers have expressed wariness about the one testing machine currently approved, called the Drager DrugTest 5000, and how its results might hold up in court.
In an interview, two officials from the company Abbott say their testing device, the "SoToxa," has shown it can accurately use a saliva sample to test for drugs in a person's system within five minutes and works in cold weather.
The company stressed that the device is an optional tool for police forces to use if they want to test for tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, before officers go through additional steps required to charge someone under Canada's drug-impaired driving law.
"This helps identify the presence of possibly THC and or other drugs and allows it as a presumptive test, an extra point for the officer to say, OK, now I'm going to take the next step and maybe go ahead and arrest the person and take a blood sample and do the normal procedure," said Christine Moore, Abbott's chief toxicologist.
The handheld device is now in a 30-day public review period after the government posted its intention to allow police to use the device. The notice went public on April 20 — the date when cannabis activists host 4-20 events — and says the SoToxa, its associated test cartridge and device for collecting oral fluid, when used together, would be considered "approved drug screening equipment" under Canadian law.
"An oral fluid sample that tests positive would presumptively confirm the presence of the drug," the post said.
The device was previously known as the Alere DDS 2 before Illinois-based Abbott, which has operations in Ottawa and Victoriaville, Que., bought and merged with Alere in 2017.
Studies published in 2018 and another in 2017 found the device spit out false positives between three and seven per cent of the time.
The 2017 study noted that police involved in testing liked the short time the machine takes to produce results but suggested they weren't as keen on the relatively long time needed to collect a sample. A study from Public Safety Canada published the same year yielded a similar finding.
Roadside-testing technology is already facing a possible legal fight in Nova Scotia. Michelle Gray, a medical marijuana user, had her licence suspended after a positive saliva test for cannabis, even though she passed a police-administered sobriety test the same night. She and her lawyer have publicly said they plan to launch a constitutional challenge.
If its testing device is approved, Abbott says it has enough to fill orders and training ready in both official languages. Some training would be delivered in person, and other follow-up online, said Fred Delfino, Abbott's North America manager for rapid diagnostic equipment.
"We have inventory of product. We're not making anything new here, so we're ready to go once the process begins in terms of purchasing and next steps," he said.