Is A Marijuana Breathalyzer Finally A Reality?

A California tech team claims to have the solution for measuring pot intake.

Photo by piotrpiotrwojcicki via Pixabay

With marijuana legalization taking hold in Canada and parts of the United States, it has become more important than ever for law enforcement to have a proper tool to gauge impairment. Because cannabis metabolizes in the human body in a way that is much different from alcohol, there has not been a roadside testing method that can effectively determine whether a motorist is actually driving high or just someone who has smoked weed at some point over the past month. But one California tech firm claims to have the solution. Oakland-based Hound Labs says it has finally perfected a roadside Breathalyzer test that makes it as easy to test for marijuana as it is for alcohol.

Up to this point, police have been forced to rely on the same field sobriety tests designed to spot alcohol impairment to try and catch stoned drivers. But these methods — walking a straight line, etc — are flawed and have been known to get innocent people jammed up on suspicion of drugged driving. However, the device created by Hound Labs will supposedly seal the scientific divide. The company’s breathalyzer, which tests for both alcohol and marijuana, can detect pot use within a couple of hours, according to NPR.

“When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours,” Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn told the news source. “And we don’t want to have people driving during that time period or, frankly, at a work site in a construction zone.”

If the test actually works, it would be a game changer. Canada’s law enforcement will be forced to use a 12-step drug recognition expert (DRE) evaluation when the country launches it recreational marijuana market later this year. As Forbes pointed out in a recent report, this method, which involves testing a person’s muscle tone and eyes, will likely put responsible cannabis users in a position of having to fight stoned driving charges.

“While some specific components of the DRE evaluation 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. “Moreover, other components of the test, such as the rigid muscle tone or pupil size, have no validation for cannabis. Ideally, both of these examinations should be amended and updated to better utilize measures that are validated for discerning subjects who may be under the influence of cannabis versus those who are not.”

So far, more than half the U.S. has legalized marijuana for medicinal or recreational use. Still, police are out there rubbing two sticks together trying to figure out who is stoned behind the wheel. This is making it difficult to prosecute high driving cases in legal marijuana states.

So, an effective marijuana breathalyzer is certainly needed. But whether Hound Labs has actually achieved this remains to be seen. While the company’s roadside device is said to have the power to detect marijuana use within a couple of hours, it cannot tell how much THC was consumed. This means a person could take a hit off a joint or smoke it in its entirety – the results would turn out the same. This factor alone could be enough of a discrepancy for accused stoned drivers to challenge the results in court.

The company says law enforcement agencies will start testing the breathalyzer later this fall.

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