Marijuana Breathalyzer – When You’re Too High to Drive
California’s Proposition 64 – legalization of recreational marijuana – is on the ballot this November and the most recent polls reveal solid voter support for the measure.
While law enforcement officials in the state have been outspoken in their stance against prop 64, some agencies appear to be preparing for the inevitable by testing a new Marijuana Breathalyzer on California drivers as recently as last September.
Hound Labs has created a dual marijuana and alcohol breathalyzer that the company says is the first of its kind. The device detects and measures recent marijuana use, from both edible and inhaled marijuana use, as well alcohol on the breath.
The founder and CEO of Hound Labs, Mike Lynn, developed the Breathalyzer in cooperation with the University of California. Lynn, who’s an emergency room doctor in Oakland and a reserve police officer with the Alameda County Sheriff, road along and conducted the tests.
Drivers suspected of being under the influence of pot got the consequence-free opportunity to participate in the test. If they tested positive, they weren’t arrested, though they were required to find another ride.
“Basically everyone agreed because they were curious,” Lynn told U.S. News & World Report. “…the objective was not to put people in jail, but to educate them and use the device if they volunteered so we could get the data.”
Though there has been some noise from groups opposing prop 64, few of them have gotten much funding, making it difficult to get their messages out.
A group that calls themselves No on 64 recently provided The San Diego Tribune with a letter from Denver, Colorado District Attorney Mitchell Morrissey.
What Have We Learned From Colorado’s Marijuana Legalization?
According to the D.A., since Colorado voters approved the legalization of recreational pot in 2013:
- Traffic related marijuana-deaths increased by 48 percent
- Emergency room visits are up by 49 percent
- Poison centers have received 100 percent more marijuana-related calls
When Will the Marijuana Breathalyzer be Available?
“The issue of impaired driving is complicated because there is no accurate device on the market today to detect and measure recent marijuana use,” says Hound Labs’ website.
In certain parts of the country, drivers suspected of marijuana use are detained and forced to undergo blood tests that, ultimately, don’t prove impairment. Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies, which will offer a competing product, hope to remedy that problem with an accurate pot Breathalyzer.
Don’t expect to see officers with these breathalyzers right away. Lynn hopes to have them readily available to law enforcement agencies by the end of 2016, but there are still a few hurdles.
When it’s confirmed the device provides accurate levels of THC in the breath (pot’s active ingredient) the results have to be correlated with other tests to determine levels of intoxication.
For instance, in California a blood alcohol level of 0.08 is over the legal limit while driving. There is no such standard comparison yet with a THC measurement from a marijuana Breathalyzer.
“The scientific community is going to have a food fight for the next decade over how these [THC figures] relate to impairment,” Brian Shaffer, a representative for a company that sells testing kits to law enforcement, told U.S. News & World Report.
Even with the skepticism and the remaining wrinkles left to iron out, giving officers a tool to detect impaired drivers under the influence of marijuana makes the roads safer for everyone.
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