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Portable Marijuana Breathalyzers Are in the Works

A police officer holds out a breatalizer that can measure THC levels.


Portable Marijuana Breathalyzers Are in the Works

A team of chemists at Washington State University is currently in the process of creating a device that will be able to detect cannabis on a person’s breath. According to reports, professor Herman Hill has been working on the prototype for the portable device that is intended to be used to test whether a driver is driving under the influence of marijuana or not.

Bob Calkins, Washington State Patrol spokesman, said the agency would “welcome anything that will help us get impaired drivers off the road,” but also mentioned that they are weary of using any new technology until it’s completely ready and fully-operational.

“It needs to be rock solid before we’ll adopt it,” Calkins said.

As of now, officers around the country must rely on their suspicions to determine whether or not they believe a driver is driving under the influence of cannabis. After an initial arrest, suspects are given a follow-up test to either confirm or eliminate an officer’s dubious first impressions. The scenario relies entirely on a hunch or an inkling from a cop. Hill hopes to help correct that problem.

“We believe at least initially that it would lower the false positives that an officer would have,” Hill said.

Washington’s DUI statute forbids drivers from operating a motor vehicle under the influence of any liquor or drug. Although the penalties for both alcohol and marijuana are similar, cannabis charges are investigated differently. A “drug recognition officer” (DRE) is often called to the scene to determine whether or not the person driving in impaired due to marijuana. The accused person is then arrested and must submit to a blood draw. Refusal to submit is essentially admitting to guilt and suspects are charged accordingly. If the suspect has .05 nanograms or greater of THC in their system, they will face criminal charges.

There have been incidences of suspects being wrongly accused and later beating the charges following a blood test. In 2013, only 25 percent of blood samples from residents suspected of driving impaired tested positive for active THC statewide.

For people who insist on driving while high, this news may be a buzzkill. But, it may be a godsend to potential suspects who are wrongfully accused of driving under the influence of cannabis. This device may help them to avoid unnecessary problems with law enforcement. However, there may still be some snags in the science behind the device.

A study on cannabinoids in exhaled breath concluded that “breath may offer an alternative matrix for testing for recent driving under the influence of cannabis, but is limited to a short detection window.”

Have you ever been suspected of driving while under the influence of cannabis? Share your experience in the comments.

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