The company behind the SoToxa mobile test system is showing off the device at an Edmonton conference on impaired driving.

Abbott’s test instrument received a green light from Ottawa last month. It’s the second approved by the federal government, and the first hand-held device.

“Being handheld allows them to take it in the field, anywhere they want to do a drug screening, particularly by the roadside,” said Fred Delfino, Abbott’s Senior Law Enforcement Liaison.

The first screening device approved by Ottawa was the Draeger 5000, which is about the size of a toaster, and costs around $6000.

Both tests use saliva samples to determine whether a person is above the legal limit of two nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood.

Abbott, the U.S.-based company behind the SoToxa, describes its product as durable. It’s built with a rubber lining on the bottom of the device to protect it when dropped. It’s also been tested in cold weather.

“It does have a built-in heater on board,” Delfino told CTV News Edmonton. “Our suggestion is they take SoToxa into the car, they run it in the car, much like they would a breathalyzer in those extreme temperatures.”

Delfino said an exact per-device cost hasn’t been worked out, but suggests it will be similar to the cost of equipping an officer’s belt with a police radio.

A spokesperson for Alberta RCMP told CTV News the personal radio units come at a cost of around $5,000 each. 

The company expects the units to be available to Canadian police agencies by October, near the one-year anniversary of the legalization of recreational marijuana.

Currently, the Edmonton Police Service has two Draeger units, which are mainly used at checkstops. The primary method for screening for drug use among drivers is still the “standardized field sobriety test.”

But an EPS member who’s been on the front lines of training and preparing the service for cannabis legalization says the EPS will consider increasing its use of electronic devices as more become available, and are proven to work in practice.

“Technology evolves so much, at such a rapid pace, that I could see that eventually being where we head,” Det. Braydon Lawrence told CTV News.

“We'll take any new technology that comes out to us to help save lives.”