It looks like a new detection device for marijuana may be hitting the streets next year, after years of research.
Marijuana has been legalized for recreational use in 11 states plus the District of Columbia; 33 states plus D.C. have approved medical marijuana.
But driving under the influence of marijuana is illegal and also hard to detect. That may just change.
Those who drive under the influence of alcohol can be breathalyzed and we can determine a persons blood alcohol level. Right now for marijuana, the only way to test is blood, hair and urine. Not only does that make things hard for officers in the field, because they aren’t exactly things that can be tested in the field, but marijuana also stays in the system longer. Meaning, if someone were to smoke on a Sunday, marijuana can be detected in their system through urine, blood and hair days later without consuming any more.
Hounds Labs Incorporated, a company based in Oakland, California, has developed a breathalyzer it says can simultaneously measure for use of both alcohol and marijuana. The project was done in collaboration with the University of California at San Francisco and Berkeley, and funded by Intrinsic Capital Partners, a Philadelphia growth equity fund.
The world’s first marijuana breathalyzer—said to be able to detect recent use rather than the mere presence of residual THC in the system—will hit the market in 2020.
According to Dr. Mike Lynn, CEO of Hound Labs, the Hound will be able to detect marijuana in the system if it has been smoked or ingested within the last three hours, known as “the peak impairment window.”
The Hound Marijuana Breathalyzer is used in the same way as alcohol breathalyzers we are accustomed to seeing.
Lynn explained, “A driver or employee breathes into the mouthpiece attached to a disposable breathalyzer which attaches to the handheld breathalyzer. The disposable cartridge on the breathalyzer simultaneously captures two breath samples. After capturing breath, the administrator removes the cartridge and inserts it into a portable base station. The results for both alcohol and THC are displayed on the screen of the base station.”
That cartridge can be saved, so the second sample can be analyzed in the future.
Mike Lynn, a veteran emergency department physician and reserve deputy sheriff from Oakland, California, collaborated with scientists at the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco to create the device.
“We wanted to be able to detect THC in people who have recently used it—either eaten the stuff or smoked a joint,” said Lynn. “Those are the people we want to discourage before they go to the workplace or get behind the wheel.”
Although recreational use of weed is now legal in 11 states and D.C., you can still be charged for driving under the influence of drugs, including marijuana. It is also illegal to smoke or eat a cannabis product while driving or riding in a car.
Unlike the 0.08% blood alcohol limit for drivers, currently, there are no laws regulating the exact amount of THC a person can take in before becoming too impaired to drive.
During field testing of the marijuana breathalyzer, law enforcement officers stated that one of the reasons they were excited about the Hound marijuana breathalyzer is because it can corroborate a driver’s story that he or she has not used marijuana recently. This is critically important for drivers because by measuring THC in breath where it only remains for a few hours, drivers can prove with a negative breath test that they have not used marijuana recently.
This is not possible with current marijuana drug tests of saliva and blood because THC can remain saliva for up to 24-48 hours and THC can remain in blood for days or weeks — long after impairment subsides. Only a marijuana breathalyzer can provide objective data about recent marijuana use, and this information is not currently available to law enforcement with other marijuana drug tests.