Portable cannabis testing: Device featured at international traffic safety conference in Edmonton

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A device to allow police to test the saliva of drivers for recent cannabis is being featured at the international traffic safety conference in Edmonton this week.

Since cannabis became legal in Canada last year, police forces have been searching for a reliable way to test someone behind the wheel for drug impairment. This led the federal government in July to approve Chicago-based Abbott’s SoToxa for use in Canada.

This is the second device to be approved, so far.

Abbott says its SoToxa device, which is just larger than a person’s hand, takes less than nine minutes to produce a test result.

Abbott spokesperson Fred Delfino, attending the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs and Traffic Safety conference on Monday, said the company is in discussions with police forces across the country.

“We’re really at that beginning stage of organizing training packages on SoToxa so that they’re able to deploy the training program throughout the country,” he said. “In the meantime, we’re prepared to start filling orders just as soon as we receive them. If we start receiving orders we will be shipping in 30 days.”

Delfino said the company has a facility in Ottawa where the device and the other products will be housed.

At the moment, SoToxa is approved to detect marijuana, although it has the ability to test for other drugs, too. The device doesn’t measure the impairment of the driver but simply gives a positive or negative result. Each test requires a cartridge that’s loaded from the bottom and a plastic swab-like device that’s loaded into the cartridge once a saliva sample is taken.

Delfino said SoToxa is looking for the active psychoactive component of marijuana.

“If you were at a concert two weeks ago and you smoked a little weed and we’re testing you today, we’re not picking that up,” he said. “This is the most recent use. It does pick up edibles, it will pick up vape as well as smoking.”

As for second-hand smoking, Delfino said the device wouldn’t pick that up because it is calibrated to detect levels of 25 nanograms.

He said the real value of SoToxa is its portability and it has been designed to take a beating. He mentioned the company even did testing to see how well the device would handle Canadian winters.

The device is already being used in several states as well as in Spain.

As for the price, Delfino said the cost would be similar to a radio.

“In the grand scheme of things, you look at the cost of SoToxa and we compare it to the cost of outfitting a law enforcement officer with radio and tools on his belt,” he added.

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