One of the biggest issues that comes up when activists talk about regulating marijuana like alcohol is the lack of a proper roadside test. Yes, most of us will agree that perhaps driving while high isn’t the best of ideas – but current means of testing often lead to a positive result even when the individual hasn’t consumed marijuana in days or even weeks. Right now, the best methods available nationwide include saliva, urine and blood testing – and only saliva testing comes even remotely close to being an accurate way to tell if someone has recently consumed marijuana, while urine tests can detect it for 30 days or more and blood tests results can vary depending on how often you use cannabis.
In the interest of keeping the general population safe, we all had to realize that the cannabis equivalent to an alcohol breathalyzer was going to be on the way to becoming a roadside normality. Well, for the first time since multiple companies introduced the idea of a cannabis breathalyzer, there is one being used for roadside testing in California. During the first test run, there was no one arrested for driving while under the influence of marijuana – however, anyone who tested positive did have to find a new way home, unless a sober licensed driver was with them.
“We were not trying to arrest people. … Sure, we could arrest people and people are arrested every day for driving stoned, but the objective was not to put people in jail but to educate them and use the device if they volunteered so we could get the data,” Lynn added.
The device was designed by Hound Labs, with the help of the University of California’s chemistry department – and Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn (who also happens to be a reserve officer with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office) was out on the streets with police officers while they tested the device. They gave those pulled over for driving erratically or general traffic infractions the option to try out the breathalyzer in order for them to collect data and prove the machine’s efficiency.
Of everyone who was stopped, there were a few who tested positive according to the machine – and all admitted to having consumed marijuana. Two individuals admitted to smoking about thirty minutes prior to being pulled over – and they had the strongest readings. Those who claimed that they had consumed roughly 2-3 hours earlier did have a lower reading, but they still tested positive. The main problem I can find with this (and I’m sure many agree) is that most of the time a cannabis high has worn off by the time 2-3 hours pass – so even if you test positive, are you still technically intoxicated? And what exactly is too stoned to drive, anyway?
“Basically everyone agreed because they were curious,” Lynn says.
For now, there is only one department working with the technology – but it is expected to be distributed to six more departments over the next few months. During the next six months or so they will be collecting data, rather than trying to simply catch stoned drivers – data collected on the roads and in a controlled obstacle course are intended to help determine a fair level to be considered “too intoxicated to drive” before rolling the device out nationally – which Hound Labs is hoping to be able to do by next year.
Hound Labs may not be the only company trying to come up with the most effective roadside cannabis testing device – however they are in the lead when it comes to having their breathalyzer working and, at least fairly accurately, determining how long ago an individual consumed cannabis. It works not only on those who have smoked cannabis, but is also able to detect whether or not you have consumed edibles – so like it or not, a cannabis breathalyzer is definitely going to be a common roadside tool, hopefully improved many times over, within the next decade or so.