Among the growing acceptance and legalization of marijuana in states across the country, expect the drug warriors to not go down without a fight.
Police are already searching and confiscating food in many states under the auspices of combating THC-infused edibles, but as companies compete to be the first to develop handheld breathalyzers that can detect pot, wide adoption by law enforcement agencies is soon to follow.
Reuters reports that Canadian company Cannabix will likely be the first to hit the market with a device now being tested to detect the presence of THC on the breath.
Colorado-based Lifeloc Technologies Inc and a chemistry professor-PhD student duo at Washington State University are also working on developing the technology.
The devices will be able to tell police officers if there is marijuana in someone’s system, but not if they’re actually impaired.
“I think the first breathalyzer on the market will be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for the presence of THC at the time of the test,” Lifeloc chief executive Barry Knot said. “In that sense it won’t provide a quantitative evidential measure.”
Medical use of marijuana is legal in about half of the states in the union. Others states, including Oregon and Colorado, have legalized recreational use but the drug still remains illegal under federal law.
In light of the new devices, under consideration by state and local governments, is the amount of marijuana in ones system that is to be deemed “acceptable.”
Medical Daily notes that “not enough is known yet about exactly how much is needed to impair driving abilities,” and thus there’s much confusion and inconsistency among states trying to impose such laws.
Some states however, are not waiting for a scientific consensus on the issue.
Washington and Montana have set a limit of 5 nanograms/milliliter (ng/mL). Pennsylvania has a 1 ng/mL limit. Other states prohibit drivers from having any amount of cannabis in their system at all.
These limits are more political than based on science, experts say, and at this early stage of development, the breathalyzer systems are still primitive.
“A few blows are typically sufficient to determine alcohol levels,” Knott said. “…With a marijuana breathalyzer we’d have somebody blowing like 20 times [and] that’s just not going to fly.”
This initial inability to accurately detect THC levels with early prototypes raises the question of whether law enforcement agencies will move to utilize the devices before they are perfected upon.
At least for the time being, the technology, called ion mobility spectrometry – which is used across the world for explosive and chemical warfare detection – is still rudimentary in its use for breath detection of pot, but it wont stay that way for long.
Lifeloc believes it will sell its first models for about $3,000 – ten times the price of an alcohol breathalyzer.