from the how-much-‘yes’-is-actually-impairment-tho dept
Breathalyzers have been in use for more than 100 years at this point and we still don’t have all the kinks worked out. Testing equipment used by law enforcement frequently isn’t calibrated or maintained correctly. Some devices have been set up improperly, which leads directly to false positives when the tests are deployed.
Unfortunately, impaired driving isn’t going away. And neither are the tools cops like well enough to deploy in the field, but apparently not well enough to engage in routine maintenance or periodic quality control testing. This is already a problem for citizens, who can find themselves behind bars if the testing equipment is faulty. The problem is only going to get worse as marijuana legalization spreads to more states.
There’s currently no field test equipment that detects marijuana impairment. A company in California thinks it has a solution.
By mid-2020, Hound Laboratories plans to begin selling what it says is the world’s first dual alcohol-marijuana breath analyzer, which founder Dr. Mike Lynn says can test whether a user has ingested THC of any kind in the past two to three hours.
“We’re allowed to have this in our bodies,” Lynn said of marijuana, which became legal to use recreationally in California in 2018. “But the tools to differentiate somebody who’s impaired from somebody who’s not don’t exist.”
We won’t know if these claims are true until the testing equipment is deployed. And even then, we still won’t know if the machines are accurate or the drivers they catch are actually impaired. Marijuana doesn’t work like alcohol, so impairment levels vary from person to person. In addition, there’s no baseline for impairment like there is for alcohol. That will have to be sorted out by state legislatures before officers can begin to claim someone is “impaired” just because the equipment has detected THC. At this point, the tech pitched by Hound Labs only provides a yes/no answer.
There’s a very good chance this new tech will go live before the important details — the ones safeguarding people’s rights and freedoms — are worked out. The founder of Hound Labs is also a reserve deputy for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. And it’s this agency that’s been test driving the weedalyzer.
The Alameda County Sherriff’s Office agreed to test the Hound Breathalyzer in the field.
“What we’ve seen trending with the addition of the legalization of cannabis in California is that we are coming across more and more marijuana-impaired drivers,” said Alameda County Sheriff spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly.
“It’s not hard to determine if there is THC on someone’s breath if they have been smoking it,” Kelly said. “It’s when they’re ingesting it through edibles, which have become much more popular. That’s extremely valuable to law enforcement.”
These tests are completely voluntary and drivers who submit to them won’t be criminally charged even if the device says they’re under the influence. But in a few months — if everyone agrees they’re good enough to be used on civilians — the tests will no longer be voluntary and the consequences will be very real.
Impaired driving that doesn’t involve alcohol is going to increase with the legalization of marijuana. But this new tech should be greeted with the proper amount of skepticism. Breathalyzers that detect alcohol have been around for decades and are still far from perfect. A new device that promises to detect recent marijuana use just because researchers say consumption can be detected for up to three hours shouldn’t be treated as a solution.
The device is stepping into a legal and legislative void with no established baseline for marijuana “intoxication.” It can only say it does or does not detect THC in a person’s breath. It can’t determine whether the amount is a little or a lot, and no one has any guidance stating how much of a THC concentration should be considered impairing or illegal. But it’s pretty much a given these will hit the roads before the law is ready for them, and that should concern drivers in every state where marijuana is legal.