As more states across the nation move to legalize cannabis for medicinal and recreational purposes, there is a great deal of pressure to develop a breathalyzer test that can easily, and more importantly, accurately determine if a person is driving stoned or whether they are just displaying THC metabolites from days, maybe weeks, prior to the traffic stop.
A company out of Oakland says they are on the verge of creating such a marijuana breathalyzer. Hound Labs Inc, which is working with researchers at the University of California, claims their device is a groundbreaking advancement in this type of technology because it will actually allow law enforcement to “determine if an individual is impaired from recent marijuana use.”
“In just one or two breaths, our new scientific approach is able to capture THC, and, through an extraction process, measure the actual level to less than 500 picograms,” UC Berkeley professor Matt Francis said in a statement. “This incredibly efficient and responsive technology is necessary to measure THC which requires a method that is more than one million times more sensitive than what is used to measure alcohol in breath.”
At this point, most legal marijuana states simply force people suspected of drugged driving to submit to blood or urine tests, since there has been no Breathalyzer prototype created thus far with the ability to judge actual impairment. Most of the devices developed over the past few years have only shown capabilities in judging whether THC is present in a person’s system. But because of the way weed metabolizes in the body, these tests have been useless in separating who might have smoked weed an hour before getting behind the wheel and those who got high within the past week.
“Our ability to measure THC in breath really should shift the national dialogue from one about simply detecting if THC is in someone’s body to a conversation where standards can be developed that reflect actual impairment,” Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn told Reuters.
Interestingly, if this Breathalyzer is as effective as it is being touted, it could absolutely change the course of legalization in many parts of the country. Some lawmakers have all but refused to even consider legalizing weed because they are concerned with how it might impact public safety. Most of their issues stem from the current inability of law enforcement to effectively test for marijuana impairment during traffic stops in the same manner for which they can with alcohol. However, with an accurate testing device, police would finally have a tool in their arsenal to help build a solid case against drugged drivers and perhaps establish a new revenue steam for their respective state.
In Colorado, more than 26,000 people are changed with driving under the influence of alcohol every year. With some of the latest figures showing the average cost of a DUI ranging between $5,000 and $12,000, it is easy to see just how profitable a proper pot Breathalyzer could be.
A report published earlier this year in The Denver Post revealed that using only the .05 nonanogram limit blood test, Colorado was still able to rack up over 5,500 arrests for driving under the influence of marijuana. This number would almost definitely make a significant increase if police were giving an accurate breathalyzer in the coming years. On the flipside, this development would also prevent innocent people from being charged with stoned driving.
“Law enforcement needs a roadside device that can help us determine if a driver is impaired from recent marijuana use,” Alameda County Sheriff, Greg Ahern, whose deputies will soon be carrying Hound Lab prototypes, said in a statement. “Current methods for testing THC are not practical for the roadside. On top of that, results can take weeks and will only tell us if marijuana is in a person’s system. By measuring THC in breath, Hound Labs, Inc. will help us get impaired drivers off the road and also make sure that unimpaired individuals who happen to have some THC in their system aren’t wrongfully arrested.”
Only time will tell if this marijuana Breathalyzer will cut the muster. Once the company finishes putting it through roadside tests, they will need to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration – a process that could take years.
Do you drive while under the influence of cannabis? Tell us about it in the comments below.