Californians prone to “ridin’ dirty” may want to reconsider in light of news that a cannabis breathalyzer could be available to law enforcement by the end of 2016.
A cannabis breathalyzer will undergo clinical trials early next year, according to Oakland-based Hound Labs, which developed the technology in collaboration with scientists at UC Berkeley.
If all goes well, the company hopes to make the device available to consumers and law enforcement by the end of 2016.
“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,” Matt Francis, a UC Berkeley professor and associate dean of chemistry, said in a statement.
That instant measurement is what California law enforcement officers have been seeking, since cops are often left guessing whether a driver they’ve pulled over is impaired or not.
Without the instant measurement of THC in the blood, police typically have to arrest people and obtain a warrant to collect the driver’s blood. Urine and saliva tests can be issued, but these indicate past cannabis use, and not whether a driver is currently impaired or not.
“We need a way to not only test ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for the presence of marijuana, but to actually measure and correlate THC levels with impairment,” said Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn, an emergency room physician.
But the news of a possible cannabis breathalyzer has some marijuana advocates fuming. They argue that, unlike alcohol, THC levels don’t give a good indication of a user’s impairment.
Even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledges that it’s “difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.”
Still, for many voters still wary of cannabis legalization, driving under the influence is a major sticking point. Hound Labs hopes to address that concern by offering police a roadside test to check drivers for impairment, just as they do for alcohol.