By / November 30, 2023

Minnesota to Assess Reliability of Cannabis Saliva Screenings

Minnesota’s Office of Traffic Safety (OTS) has initiated a pilot project to develop a saliva test for effectively detecting impairment in drivers who have consumed cannabis.

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Minnesota’s Pilot Saliva Testing Program

According to Mike Hanson, director of the OTS, the primary goal of the saliva test is to identify individuals who have consumed substances like cannabis and opioids within the last two hours, rather than detecting usage from several days ago, as reported by Fox9. The test utilizes the SoToxa Mobile Test System and the Dräger DrugTest 5000, both of which have been tested in other states.

The state has recruited 320 Drug Recognition Evaluators (DRE) for the program, the majority being local law enforcement officers. These evaluators, trained to recognize impairment signs from substances other than alcohol, will be equipped with saliva tests. The testing process includes field sobriety tests, followed by a voluntary saliva sample, which is then analyzed for the presence of six substances, including cannabis. Drivers who test positive will not be arrested or have their licenses revoked while participating in the operation.

Participants in the pilot program voluntarily provide saliva samples, allowing the OTS to gather valuable data on the prevalence of drug-influenced driving. The aim is to submit this data to the Minnesota legislature in fall 2024, advocating for legislative updates that would enable law enforcement to use these devices to apprehend impaired drivers.

Minnesota has seen an increase in drug-influenced driving incidents from 8,069 between 2013-2017 to 15,810 between 2018-2022.

Global Initiatives in Roadside Control

Minnesota’s program aligns with similar global initiatives. In Michigan, the 2017 roadside oral fluid analysis pilot program used the Alere DDS2 device to test for various substances. Phase II of the program, from 2019 to 2020, expanded its scope. Other U.S. states, including Alabama and Kansas, have also implemented roadside saliva testing.

Following the legalization of adult-use cannabis in 2018, Canada adapted its laws to permit roadside drug saliva testing using Dräger’s DrugTest 5000. The SoToxa Mobile Test System was approved for law enforcement use in 2019. Meanwhile, in Australia, the Victorian Parliament approved a bill for a medical cannabis driving trial in October 2023, signaling a commitment to understanding how cannabis affects driving behavior.

However, concerns have been raised about the efficacy of these roadside drug tests. Vancouver-based attorney Kyla Lee highlighted issues with Dräger’s DrugTest 5000, citing its unreliability in determining impairment. False positives, especially for those who have only consumed CBD, and performance difficulties in cold weather are among the reported issues.

A September 2023 article on the American Council on Science and Health website echoes these concerns, citing a study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego. The study questions the accuracy of roadside saliva tests, highlighting a lack of scientific consensus on their reliability in indicating cannabis intoxication.

University of Minnesota Launches Cannabis Research Center

The University of Minnesota recently inaugurated the Cannabis Research Center (CRC), responding to the legalization of cannabis for adults aged 21 and over in the state. Established under the School of Public Health, the CRC aims to assess the impact of cannabis legalization in Minnesota and guide policymakers in developing regulations and best practices. With an annual budget of $2.5 million, the center will be funded by state cannabis tax revenues once the recreational market is operational.

Professor Traci Toomey, an expert in public health policy focusing on substance consumption control policies, will be the CRC’s first director.

The center’s objectives include:

  • Conducting in-depth research on the effects of adult-use cannabis legalization on health, addressing issues related to equity, prevention and treatment of substance use disorders, education, and decriminalization
  • Prioritizing anti-racist principles
  • Maximizing health benefits from cannabis regulation
  • Studying cannabis’s impact on underage consumers, considering concerns about its effects on brain development and the risk of later-life cannabis use disorders
  • Investigating the influence of cannabis legalization on public safety, health equity, and potential disparities in cannabis marketing and distribution across different communities.

Minnesota’s adult-use cannabis law has been in effect since August. The opening of state-licensed cannabis dispensaries is scheduled for early 2025, pending the establishment of regulations for commercial production and sales.

(Featured image by West Midlands Police (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Wikimedia Commons)

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