Monday, October 30, 2017
Proponents for legalizing marijuana often argue that marijuana is safer than alcohol, and thus should be similarly regulated. But opponents have maintained a strong rebuttal: law enforcement is unable to detect with certainty whether people are impaired enough that they cannot safely operate a vehicle. But a company called Hound Labs is currently developing a solution to this problem: a marijuana breathalyzer. Lauren Silverman of Marketplace reports:
The Hound device is a small, black breathalyzer that has a tube sticking out of it — you blow through it a few times, and... it’s able to analyze and detect the amount of THC in someone’s breath in minutes.
If Hound Labs is successful, this will revolutionize law enforcement's strategy for cracking down on impaired drivers, regardless of whether the state has legalized marijuana in some form. Currently, standard breathalyzers cannot detect marijuana, and urine and blood tests are not sophisticated enough to show whether someone consumed marijuana minutes or weeks ago. Further, results of such tests can take days or weeks to confirm through lab tests.
This current time delay is problematic because law enforcement officers want to prevent actually-stoned people from operating vehicles, not those who may have consumed the drug weeks ago. The Hound product solves this problem by recording the person's current level of THC within minutes. The company explains the effectiveness of this method through research showing "the level of THC in someone's breath rises right after smoking, and then trails off after a few hours."
Although police officers have shown an interest in such a marijuana breathalyzer, some are still concerned because they measure an amount, not a behavior. Sergeant Marc Vincent, a Drug Recognition Expert in Texas, voiced his concerns:
“Just because there’s marijuana [in their breath] — I need to be able to show, prove impairment that they can’t safely operate a vehicle[.]”
While some legalized states like Colorado and Montana have determined the limit for marijuana impairment as five nanograms of THC in blood, scientists still disagree on what amount indicates someone is too impaired to safely operate a vehicle. This causes a problem for companies like Hound Labs because law enforcement departments are unlikely to purchase marijuana breathalyzers until a reliable measuring-system standard is in place.