Tests To Begin in California On Marijuana Breathalyzer Device

Those driving under the influence of the green stuff may soon be faced with a marijuana breathalyzer test. Just like their drinking counterparts, they will be stopped and tested to ensure they are safe to be out and about on the roads.

According to Fox 32, Hound Labs Inc. in Oakland, California, have announced a new marijuana breathalyzer is currently undergoing tests. This new breathalyzer would be used by police officers in conjunction with the normal alcohol breath test when pulling over risky drivers.

According to Hound Labs CEO and founder, Dr. Mike Lynn, "The idea is that law enforcement will have one device out on the road to test for both THC [a marijuana component] and alcohol."

Lynn says the marijuana breathalyzer will begin clinical trials early in the New Year. Hound Labs is reportedly working together with scientists at UC Berkeley to develop the new technology.

Matt Francis, UC Berkeley professor and associate dean of chemistry, said in a statement, "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."

Lynn said that typically the measurement of the level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) -- the psychoactive component in marijuana that gives users their "high" -- is performed using urine, blood, or saliva tests. However, those results can show if the person had been using marijuana in recent days or weeks, but not whether they are currently impaired by the substance.

Lynn did say developing the new device is a "complicated scientific challenge."

Initially the new handheld marijuana breathalyzer device will be tested by law enforcement agencies in the San Francisco Bay area and Lynn says depending on the results, will eventually be used across the country.

"We plan to do clinical studies and also work with law enforcement on testing to make sure we have the exact device that's really needed out there on the street."
According to Local8Now, a similar device has been in the works for some time by researchers from Washington State University. Voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in that state back in 2012 and drivers in that state are considered impaired when testing positive for at least five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.Lynn said sales of Hound Labs' version of the marijuana breathalyzer devices to police and consumers could begin late next year, and they could cost around $1,000 or less.

Around 20 million Americans using marijuana, and as more states legalize it, studies are finding it's more common for young people to drive stoned than drunk. Lynn is also an emergency room physician at Highland Hospital in Oakland and says in his work in trauma centers he has seen the "terrible, senseless tragedies related to impaired driving" and has also seen the challenges police officers face, dealing with impaired drivers.

"When I started the company, it was my intention of finding a way to measure this stuff in breath. Every single death or injury from an impaired driver is preventable and there aren't many things in life like that that are preventable."
Not everyone is in agreement that the marijuana breathalyzer is a viable thing, however. Leafly reports that "measuring blood levels in one thing, judging impairment is another."

Their article states that regardless of whether the marijuana breathalyzer device is a success in trials, many cannabis advocates state THC levels do not give a good indication of a user or driver's impairment.

Reportedly even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration acknowledges it is "difficult to establish a relationship between a person's THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects."

[Photo via Flickr by Chuck Grimmett/CC BY-SA 2]