With several more states on track to legalize recreational marijuana within the next year, the pressure is mounting for science to develop an effective Breathalyzer that law enforcement can not only use to gauge impairment, but one that accomplishes this goal without scrutinizing every driver showing traces of THC metabolites with a DUI.
Although this all-important task has been somewhat of a challenge for the tech firms that have attempted to capitalize on this concept, a California company called Hound Labs revealed earlier this week that it has successfully manufactured a first-of-its-kind marijuana Breathalyzer that police can use to “determine if an individual is impaired from recent marijuana use.”
The device, which was created with the help of scientists at the University of California in Berkeley, will reportedly solve the stoned driving conundrum by giving law enforcement a tool for measuring marijuana intoxication unprecedented even by standards by which drunk driving is measured.
“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.”
Ever since states began legalizing cannabis, the issue of stoned driving has been a controversial debacle shrouded in half-baked regulations and unconstitutional practices. Some states, like Indiana, have maintained a strict no-tolerance policy on the issue of drugged driving that has caused many motorists to be charged with DUI simply because a blood test showed that they may have smoked marijuana within the past week. In legal states, the situation is an equally sad state of affairs, as most lawmakers have determined a person who registers .05 nanongrams of THC per milliliter of blood to be legally impaired.
The scene has become even more dreadful in recent years with flawed pot breathalyzers being distributed to law enforcement agencies for consideration. All of these devices, however, have only been successful in proving a driver was high at some point, but a total failure in measuring immediate impairment. As Paul Armentano, deputy director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, pointed out in his 2013 article, “The Problem with the Pot Breathalyzer,” “breath test technology is simply a detection test, not a per se indicator of whether subjects are “under the influence” of drugs.”
However, the folks at Hound Lab claim to have solved this problem.
“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.
While it is almost inevitable that some form of easy-to-use weed impairment test will need to be put in place before lawmakers and law enforcement can get comfortable with the idea of legal weed, some experts doubt that marijuana impairment can be tested in the same manner as it is done for booze.
“To date, no such data exist correlating THC/breath detection levels with behavioral impairment,” Armentano told the Washington Times. “In fact, no scientific study that I am aware of has even attempted to correlate the detection of THC in breath with actual behavioral or psychomotor impairment of any kind.”
While Hound Lab says their prototypes will be ready by the beginning of 2016, it will still take some time before this device hits the streets. The company plans to begin testing the product next year with the help of the Alameda Sheriff’s Department. If this phase proves successful, they will apply for FDA approval, which could take years to come through.
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