The Future Of The Drug War: Pot Breathalyzers

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.

  • Nathan Russell

    How about we just let people drive stoned studies have shown that it’s just as safe as driving sober.

  • crazytrain2

    There needs to be some way to determine if someone is driving impaired while under the influence of pot. I don’t think standard field sobriety tests accurately indicate impairment. Obviously, if the person can’t stand up because they are so high, or there is very demonstrative nystagmus and they can’t walk are valid indicators, but to be able to prosecute someone for driving while under the influence, there has to be some level or numerical limit that the person has exceeded. But, currently, there is no way to measure that.

    • Mike

      I don’t think it will work, as someone that smokes multiple times every day, can have high levels of THC, and perform all tests fine, with no effect on motor skills or coordination, and someone who rarely smoke can get high and be effected, but unlike alcohol, marijuana users tend to slow down and behave more cautiously.

      • crazytrain2

        I don’t agree with the statement that they tend to slow down and drive more carefully, but I think we both can agree that current tests do not work and someone who is perfectly fine to drive, will test positive if they smoked the day before. That is the problem, there are no current absolute testing procedures for someone that is suspected of driving while under the influence of mj.

        • bizz

          But if THC only remains in the mouth for 4 hours then it would give an indication that the person had smoked withing 4 hours of the time of measurment

          • crazytrain2

            Currently, that technology is not available. Also, PBT’s or preliminary breath tests, have been around for a long time, and they are pretty accurate and often measure lower than the secondary breath test will show, and they are inadmissible in court. It can be a pass/fail result only, so even if thc breath tests become accepted, I doubt that it will be able to be used in court. Again, despite what people think, DUIs are harder to prove than people are aware. There are so many steps, waiting periods, questionaires, and other procedures that are often easily picked apart. Blood tests are often a slam dunk, but the nurse or tech that drew the blood then gets grilled on the stand, and if they fail to show, the case is lost. Then, to get a license taken away, is very difficult, and that is so people can pay their fines and lawyers can make a good amount of money, and since they often win that portion of the case(yes, even with a guilty plea or conviction in criminal court) it makes it worth it to hire one if you can afford it.

  • Luca

    what if I smoke so much that even after a week of sobriety I still have those thc nano whathoozits in my systems this sounds so fucking corrupt

  • Michael Young

    .000000001 grams????? shape and charge of ions to identify a chemical ?? What about false positives and negatives is it a true value or does it also looks for break down products!!!

  • “The devices will be able to tell police officers if there is marijuana in someone’s system, but not if they’re actually impaired.”

    If the device can’t signify impairment…what would be it’s intended use? It could only be used to harass those that aren’t impaired in any way but may have had a relaxing evening the night before.

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  • johnny staccato

    If you got legal weed there is no point in pulling some bogus shit on citizens and then creating a disincentive to use. The tax money golden egg will vanish which is a major reason for states to legalize. Police need to back the fuck off and let people enjoy life. Were not here to provide money for them. klepto bazturds

  • zzzak666

    Here in Australia they take a scraping from your tongue, so when you’re in the shower use the ridged section on the back of your toothbrush to cleanse your tongue then gargle some mouthwash.