Are Marijuana Breathalyzers Here?

Posted by Lawrence Taylor on September 14th, 2016

Law enforcement continues to be frustrated in trying to prove that a possibly impaired driver is under the influence of marijuana (so-called "stoned driving").  

As recent posts on this blog have pointed out, the simple fact is that there is no scientifically valid method for measuring marijuana and its effect. The current method involves drawing a blood sample from the person after the suspect is arrested and analyzing it for marijuana — or, more accurately, for the presence and amounts of the active ingredient, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), in the blood.  

But there are two primary problems with this.  First, the marijuana measured may well be inactive and still present in the body from ingestion days or even weeks earlier.  Second, there is no generally accepted scientific evidence as to what levels of THC can cause sufficient impairment to the ability to safely operate a motor vehicle.  See, for example, my previous post Identifying and Proving DUI Marijuana ("Stoned Driving").  

The latest attempts for a quick-and-easy way to prove "stoned driving" involve developing a "marijuana breathalyzer" — a device that will test for THC on the breath, as is done for alcohol with current breathalyzers.  To date, these have proven inaccurate and unreliable.  See previous posts Can Breathalyzers Measure Marijuana? and Is a Marijuana Breathalyzer in the Offing?

Today, a company claims to have finally developed the long-hoped-for answer to law enforcement’s dilemma…           


Pot Breathalyzer Hits the Street

U.S. News & World Report.  Sept. 14 – American police have for the first time used a marijuana breathalyzer to evaluate impaired drivers, the company behind the pioneering device declared Tuesday, saying it separately confirmed its breath test can detect recent consumption of marijuana-infused food.

The two apparent firsts allow Hound Labs to move forward with plans to widely distribute its technology to law enforcement in the first half of next year, says CEO Mike Lynn.   Lynn, an emergency room doctor in Oakland, California, also is a reserve officer with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office and he helped pull over drivers in the initial field tests, none of whom were arrested after voluntarily breathing into the handheld contraption…

The technology, if all goes according to plan, will be welcomed by both sides of the pot legalization debate, those who fear drugged drivers and reformers outraged that pot users in some jurisdictions are subjectively detained and forced to undergo blood tests that don’t prove impairment, especially in frequent users….

There’s a two-part testing challenge now: confirming with laboratory equipment that the device gives accurate results, and then correlating specific measurements (given in picograms of THC) with levels of intoxication, a challenge that will include sending stoned drivers on an obstacle course — something already done informally….

Hound Labs, of course, isn’t the only company that sees an opening as U.S. states increasingly regulate sales of marijuana for recreational or medical use, but it is ahead of the curve, beating another company aiming to introduce a marijuana breathalyzer, Cannabix Technologies….   

 
Hmmmm…..Might there a conflict of interest when the CEO is a reserve police officer involved in field testing his own product?  And how can an indirect analysis of THC on the breath done in the field be more reliable and accurate than directly analyzing it in the blood in a laboratory?  

Profit and politics has always trumped science and truth in the DUI field.  See my post DUI Laws Overrule Scientific Truth.
 

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