Researchers at Washington State University are developing a marijuana breath testing device to help discourage smokers from getting behind the wheel.
Photo credit: CBC
Driving after smoking marijuana may seem like second nature to veteran smokers. As marijuana legalization takes hold in the United States and across the globe, there is an increasing amount of first-time smokers who do not know their limits.
So, researchers at Washington State University are developing a marijuana breath test to help discourage smokers from testing their limits while behind the wheel.
For over a year, researchers at Washington State University have been working to develop a field test for marijuana use. The test is designed to assist authorities in determining if someone is in fact “high” beyond the legal limit, similar to breathalyzers used to determine blood alcohol content. The device used to conduct the test would also look similar to an alcohol breathalyzer.
Unlike alcohol, Delta 9- Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can stay present in your system for weeks. This is where the challenge of field-testing presents itself. Though THC can remain in your system for 30 days, active THC can leave your system in just a few hours. So, law enforcement officers need a way to determine the difference between inactive THC metabolites and active THC.
Currently, the most popular ways to determine marijuana use is through either a blood test or a saliva test. In each test, false positives are frequent. For example, a regular user of marijuana could be given a blood test that will return positive for THC even if the subject has not consumed marijuana for days. The saliva test can produce the same false results that often encourage criminal charges when the subject is actually within their rights.
Researchers at WSU suggest their field-testing device will be ready for implementation into law enforcement efforts in the next year. Herbert Hill, a chemistry professor at WSU and participant in the research said,
“Out of 30 times the test was recently used on someone before and after they smoked marijuana, it accurately detected THC in the person’s system about half of the time”.
So, we are about 1 year away from seeing this device used in traffic stops, but with a 50% success rate, it seems like a stretch. As marijuana users, we are subject to random attacks by law enforcement.
We often hear of cases being thrown out of court because of lack of evidence or because of faulty evidence. Certainly, there should be an accurate system in place for policing drivers who are legally too high to be behind the wheel.
The system should not leave the door open for interpretation. If the law states a legal limit for active THC in a driver’s system, then we should feel confident that law enforcement is able to determine these levels accurately.
The novelty of this product is acceptable, but what is not acceptable is ambiguity. Police officers have demonstrated time and again that they are not capable of remaining objective during traffic stops. Theoretically, giving them a tool to keep them focused on the facts is a positive for marijuana users. However, it is reasonable to believe that officers will abuse this device, perhaps stopping any car they deem to fit the “profile” of a cannabis enthusiast.
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