We can put a man on the moon, but, so far, the human race has failed to figure out how to accurately gauge stoned driving. This is one of the most baffling aspects of the marijuana debate. Taking into account all of the marvels of modern medicine and technology, there hasn’t been a single genius out there with the ability to devise a system that allows us to determine whether a motorist is impaired or if they have trace amounts of cannabinoids in their system.
Several companies have emerged throughout the years, claiming to have broken through this barrier, but nothing substantial has come to fruition. This is unfortunate, considering that nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for recreational use. And most recently, Canada passed legislation to end prohibition nationwide.
Still, the issue of stoned driving continues to be dealt with through drug recognition expert (DRE) evaluations and tests of the various bodily fluids — all proven ineffective for establishing cannabis impairment.
In an effort to remedy this conundrum, researchers from the University of California, San Diego have partnered with the California Highway Patrol in hopes of establishing a boundary — a timeline, if you will — between the consumption of cannabis and that point in which a person is considered “too high to drive.” The study, which was authorized by the state legislature, is calling on members of the public to participate.
Researchers say they want to get to the bottom of the question: “If you smoked this morning are you impaired throughout the day? Are you impaired for a couple of hours? Or are you not impaired?” Tom Marcotte, co-Director of the CMCR, told ABC15.
Although marijuana is being taxed and regulated in a manner similar to alcohol in some states, it is a completely different beast than booze. Drunk driving can be policed easily with the use of a breathalyzer. This roadside test can determine, within seconds, how much alcohol is coursing through a person’s veins. But because of the way cannabis metabolizes in the body, it is impossible to measure THC impairment in the same way. This is the reason it is difficult to prosecute high driving cases in legal states. It is simply too difficult to prove that a driver was impaired behind the wheel.
“You don’t know when it’s been smoked, as opposed to somebody with alcohol in their system,” California defense attorney Robert Shatzco told KRON4.
The latest study into the anomaly of stoned driving, which is said to be the largest of its kind, will focus less on the numbers and more on real-life effects. Researchers plan to recruit nearly 200 healthy test subjects to take part in a driving simulation, which will include field sobriety tests, iPad-based performance assessments and a series of drug tests. All of the participants will be required to smoke cannabis of various potencies. Some will get higher doses of THC, while others may not get any THC at all, says Marcotte.
Anyone interested in taking part in this paid exploration into stoned driving can apply here.
Unfortunately, without a proper device to test drivers for cannabis impairment, studies like these will do very little to solve the problem. Without a uniform testing method — like a cannabis breathalyzer — experts say law enforcement will continue to harass innocent motorists. Because while some of the roadside testing methods “may have some correlation with recent cannabis use, many of these indicators may also be triggered by subjects who have not used cannabis at all,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director at NORML.
But an accurate test could be on the horizon.
Hound Labs, which announced in 2015 that it had created a breath test that would actually allow law enforcement to “determine if an individual is impaired from recent marijuana use,” claims it is on the verge of launching a device that will solve this controversial issue. The company’s Hound Breathalyzer, which picks up on alcohol impairment, as well, is said to “confidently determine recent marijuana use,” “regardless of how marijuana was consumed.” It also claims the test does not detect past cannabis consumption.
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