Researchers with the National Institute on Drug Abuse believe they have developed a roadside testing device that can accurately determine if a driver is operating the vehicle under the influence of marijuana.
Similar to a Breathalyzer that detects the presence of alcohol, the new equipment can determine if a driver has recently smoked weed by analyzing the suspect’s breath.
Understanding the Technology
As states like Washington and Colorado have legalized marijuana for recreational use, law enforcement officials have been trying to develop the best methods for identifying impaired drivers. Some signs they check for include:
- Red, bloodshot eyes;
- Delayed response to questions;
- Marijuana odor or drug paraphernalia;
- Lack of focus;
- Inability to balance during roadside testing.
While these methods can help determine the likelihood that a driver had been smoking weed, it’s hardly an airtight solution. To improve upon the science, researchers decided to conduct a study.
For their study, researchers asked participants to smoke standardized marijuana joints. After they finished their joint, participants had their breath analyzed using a specially calibrated Breathalyzer. In all cases, researchers were accurately able to determine the participant’s THC levels without detecting the carboyl-THC molecule, which can be stored in fat cells and trigger positive tests in blood tests days, weeks and even months after smoking marijuana. By testing for the presence of THC without searching to the carboyl-THC molecule, scientists have created a way to test if a driver is under the influence of marijuana without falsely identifying law-abiding citizens.
Coming Soon to a Squad Car Near You?
Researchers still want to improve the technology and test it on a bigger sample size, but it could mark a big shift in how police officers collect evidence during traffic stops.
This is especially true in Washington and Colorado, where recreational marijuana use is legal. According to the US Department of Justice, as long as the states create a practical system for maintaining and regulating marijuana use, the federal government will stay out of the way. In their statement to the states, the DOJ outlined eight points that must be regulated, one of which is drugged driving. If the technology continues to advance, don’t be surprised if Colorado and Washington impose a THC limits for driving, similar to the 0.08 law for alcohol.
Related sources: Huffington Post, ClinChem.org