On holidays like St. Patrick’s Day, we have come to expect that there will be a few more than the usual number of traffic stops and sobriety checkpoints – and this year the Irish holiday was the debut of the Dräger Drug Test 5000. The name being fairly self-explanatory, the Dräger is used to determine whether or not a person has recently done recreational drugs.
The test uses a mouth swab to detect six specific drugs – marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, methadone, amphetamine, and benzodiazepines. While the test is able to determine whether or not a person has used any of these drugs within the last few hours, it is unable to determine how impaired someone may be from that drug; it merely shows you’ve used it. Once an individual tests positive for marijuana, or anything else for that matter, they are sent to a police phlebotomist for a blood test to determine impairment.
Unfortunately, the big problem with this is the fact that even knowing how much THC is in an individual’s bloodstream isn’t going to give you an accurate measurement for how impaired they may be. Unlike alcohol, where nine times out of ten someone is going to be impaired before or by the time they hit the legal limit, cannabis is harder to measure. Different strains offer different reactions, and an individual’s tolerance is also a big factor that comes into play.
“The message we are sending is simply this: Do not drive while impaired by alcohol, impaired by drugs or a combination of both,” San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman told NBC 7. “And if you choose to make the wrong decision to drive while under the influence and impaired by drugs, this technology is another tool we will use to find you, arrest you and prevent you from endangering our community.”
While the effort to keep our roadways safe is understandable, arresting people for a DUI or DWI for cannabis use based on the amount of THC in their bloodstream is highly inaccurate and, in many cases, largely unfair. A daily user of cannabis is going to be less likely to be impaired from a few puffs off a joint compared to someone who only smokes occasionally – so even though they have ingested the same amount of THC one of them is clearly more “impaired” than the other. However, until we find a better way to determine whether or not someone is “too stoned to drive”, this is the sort of thing we will continue to see.