Sure, most people these days have come around to the fact that cannabis has medicinal uses. But THC is a psychoactive substance, and concerns abound about the public health risks of more people getting high legally. Since cannabis has intoxicating effects, the logic goes, being high behind the wheel is just like driving drunk. While there have been some hilarious attempts to study the effects of weed on driving, no one has been able to prove that being high has no effect on driving skills. Unfortunately — or fortunately, depending on how you look at it –there’s no reliable way to tell “how high” someone is with a drug test. But that hasn’t stopped California cops from rolling out a new roadside saliva test device that measures THC.
California Cops Are Hoping This Saliva Test Will Detect THC
Actually, police use roadside saliva tests to test for all kinds of drugs. Not just marijuana, but also meth, cocaine, and even prescription medications. But the recent legalization of recreational cannabis in California has turned their attention to enforcing DUI laws. To do so, police officers are relying on a saliva test, not urine or blood, to detect THC.
NarcoCheck, the company that manufactures one of the standard saliva tests, boasts about the efficiency of their test. They claim that the saliva test can detect if a person has smoked weed in the last 4-6 hours.
According to the NarcoCheck website, the saliva test detects the activated form of THC, delta 9-THC. “The smoke of a marijuana cigarette is full of this molecule, leaving a trace for several hours,” the description somewhat nerdishly explains.
California police departments are also equipping themselves with a device called the Dräger 5000 test. It’s an electronic saliva analyzer about the size of a bookshelf speaker. San Diego rolled out the device about two months ago, just in time for St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
However, this raises an important question. Is a person still high from a joint they smoked 6 hours ago? What if they only had just a hit or two? Comparing the situation to alcohol, you’d be hard-pressed to make the case that someone was driving drunk at midnight if they drank a beer with dinner.
Nevertheless, California cops are hoping the saliva tests help them make a better guess of who is too stoned to drive, and who isn’t. But is the test really the “true innovation in testing saliva,” as some claim?
Does Being High Really Affect Your Driving?
Of course, the answer is somewhat subjective, and it’s important to know your limits. Nevertheless, there isn’t any solid scientific basis for thinking that the mere presence of THC in someone’s system is impairing their driving.
In fact, AAA’s own Safety Foundation couldn’t come up with any conclusive evidence that drivers with THC in their systems were bad or dangerous drivers.
On the one hand, it makes total sense that lawmakers and the public would want to know how to set some kind of legal limit for cannabis intoxication. It’s important to understand how legal cannabis effects public safety. That’s how we educate ourselves to come up with sensible weed laws.
But San Diego Police chief Shelley Zimmerman says drugged driving is still a huge concern. She expects to see a rapid increase in cannabis-related intoxication in drivers.
Saliva Tests Could Still Stick Sober Drivers With DUIs
Fair enough, saliva tests are more immediate than blood tests. Blood tests don’t tell you much, just whether or not a person has consumed cannabis at some point recently. Saliva tests may be able to narrow the detection window. But again, the simple existence of THC in your spit doesn’t mean you’re too high to drive, or high at all.
So until there’s a more reliable way to test for cannabis intoxication, officers should rely on other methods. There’s no reason why field sobriety tests aren’t good enough for testing coordination.
Alcohol-related driving deaths kill more than 10,000 Californians every year, according to the CDC. Alcohol definitely impairs your ability to drive. But a 2015 study by researchers at the University of Iowa found that stoned drivers actually attempt to drive more cautiously. Drunk drivers took more risks.
Final Hit: Saliva Test For THC
The point is simply that a positive saliva test could stick you with a DUI even when you’re sober. Fortunately, you shouldn’t have any problem fighting the issue in court.
The test still leaves lots of room for doubt. It’s basically impossible to totally prove that someone was intoxicated from a THC cheek swab. Additionally, drivers can refuse to submit to the saliva test, making a DUI for cannabis even harder to prove.