Law enforcement officers may soon have a new tool at their disposal for catching stoned drivers, thanks to two startups pioneering a marijuana breathalyzer.
Hound Labs in California and Cannabix Technologies in British Columbia, Canada are creating handheld devices that resemble the breathalyzers used for testing blood alcohol content. People blow into a tube on the device that scans their breaths for tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of marijuana that gets users high, reports KTLA 5.
Michael Lynn, CEO of Hound Labs and a emergency room doctor, says that THC remains detectable in molecules in a person’s breath for up to two hours. He recently told CNN, “we tested on so many people now that we’re quite confident.” Hound Labs raised $8.1 million from the same venture capitalist company that funded Uber.
“We know it works,” Dr. Bruce Goldberger, a forensic toxicologist advising Cannabix Technologies, told KTLA 5.
Hound Labs hopes to have their product available for police departments nationwide before the end of the year. Lynn estimates that the marijuana breathalyzer will cost between $600 and $800. It will likely take time before the devices are used to prosecute individuals for driving under the influence. Authorities will need to conduct independent testing and adopt laws allowing its use as evidence.
Marijuana legalization is causing concerns across the U.S. over high driving and how to accurately test drivers for the substance. A urine test, the current measure of whether a driver may be impaired by marijuana, does not look for THC.
Despite fears from lawmakers, traffic fatalities are not surging in states where weed is now legal, and the rate of traffic deaths dropped in most states after legalizing medical marijuana.
Researchers found that, when states legalized medical marijuana, traffic fatalities fell on average by 11 percent. Traffic deaths dropped by 12 percent among 25- to 44-year-olds, the demographic with the largest amount of registered medical marijuana users.
It is unclear whether legalizing marijuana for recreational use will follow the same trends, and the study’s authors say that more research is needed to understand the declines in traffic fatalities. A recent report from the Governors Highway Safety Association and the Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility found that traffic deaths involving marijuana increased by 48 percent in Colorado after legalization of recreational marijuana.
Critics caution against reading into these statistics, however, because marijuana stays in a person’s system for weeks after use.
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