Researchers from Washington State made the news recently when it was revealed they have begun work to develop a breath test that will do for marijuana what existing devices have done for alcohol detection. The new device is aimed at helping police officers quickly and easily identify those drivers whose marijuana usage has resulted in impairment.
The issue of marijuana impairment has become trickier now that several states, Washington and Colorado, have passed measures allowing for the legalization of marijuana usage. Though smoking pot may not result in an arrest, both states still make clear that drivers operating motor vehicles with more than a designated amount (five nanograms) of THC in their system face DUI charges.
That means in these states, the issue is more complicated than simply identifying the presence of marijuana. Drivers must instead be shown to have above a certain legally acceptable level before charges can result. Currently, the only way to do this is to have the driver submit to a blood test, which can be expensive and time consuming. The hope is that a portable breath test speeds the process along dramatically.
Researchers with Washington State University say that the technology needed to create such a pot breathalyzer already exists. Equipment used by customs agents and security companies allows for the detection of drugs by breath and can be manipulated to do the same for THC.
Those who are assisting with the creation of such a machine say that in addition to speeding up the process, the goal is to increase the confidence in the arrest itself. Currently, officers are left to rely on their own judgment about whether a person has consumed an intoxicating amount of marijuana, a question that is often quite subjective and can lead to inappropriate arrests and false positives.
According to those working on the project, the goal is to have the prototype machine built this year and to begin testing on human subjects next year. Given the speculative nature of these marijuana breath tests, experts say that it is likely follow-up blood tests would still have to be conducted to use as evidence in court.
Though reducing false positives and inappropriate arrests is certainly a good goal to strive for, the worry is that an untested machine could itself serve as justification for arresting many thousands of other drivers. Breathalyzer machines are controversial even today, decades after they were first invented. Critics say that it will likely take even longer to create a marijuana breath test that could demonstrate its reliability to the degree necessary to be admissible in court.
Source: “New marijuana portable breath test in works,” by Darren Whitehead, published at USAToday.com.