While many parts of the country are working on legalization laws that would allow the use of medical marijuana by anyone with a prescription, private companies and local law enforcement agencies aren’t far behind. Multiple groups are working on marijuana or weed breathalyzers that would allows police officers to crack down on drug-related DUIs.
Drug Use Behind the Wheel Increases
According to two new studies on impaired driving by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), drunk driving is declining, while drugged driving is on the rise. One of those studies discovered that the total number of drivers with alcohol in their system has diminished by nearly 33 percent since 2007 (and almost 75 percent since the first survey in 1973). On the other hand, there has been a significant uptick in the amount of drivers using marijuana and other illegal drugs. Nearly 25 percent of surveyed drivers tested positive for at least one illegal drug that could impair driving skills or affect road safety.
A second study found that marijuana users are more likely to be involved in car accidents than alcohol-influenced counterparts. However, the researchers admit that this increase could be caused by the fact that marijuana users are more apt to travel in groups and are predominantly men (both high risk factors). “Drivers should never get behind the wheel impaired, and we know that marijuana impairs judgment, reaction times and awareness,” concluded Jeff Michaels, the administrator behind the study.
New Breathalyzers in Testing Phases
As things currently stand, a driver typically has to agree to give blood samples in order for law enforcement to determine whether the motorist is under the influence of marijuana. The game could soon be changing, though.
Researchers for Washington State were the first to make headlines in January when they revealed that they had begun working on a breath test that would detect marijuana in drivers. Their aim is to help police officers quickly identify when someone is driving under the influence, much like an alcohol detection device.
Another device, cleverly nicknamed The Cannibuster, is also in testing phases. The two biomedical engineering students behind the prototype, Kathleen Stitzlein and Mariam Crow, say the device uses lab-on-chip technology and noninvasive saliva testing to quickly detect THC levels.
“Today, if a driver is suspected of impaired driving due to marijuana, law enforcement officers must call an Emergency Medical Squad to the scene or take the driver to a local hospital for blood work,” said Stitzlein. She further mentioned that lab results could take as long as six weeks to come back, which is anything but ideal in a legal situation.
However, the race for superior technology doesn’t stop there. Plenty of other companies, including Cannabix Technologies, are working hard to win the race. Founded by a former Canadian Mounted Policeman, Cannabix Technologies’ device doesn’t measure the amount of THC in the body, but simply gives a reading of whether or not any THC is present in the body. Preliminary research suggest positive results occurs within the first two hours of marijuana use, which correlates pretty well with the duration and time of impairment.
What Marijuana Breathalyzers Would Mean
While we’re still a ways away from any THC breathalyzer technology finding its way into a police cruiser, there are no shortages of opinions. Many support it, citing the NHTAs newest studies as proof that driving while drugged is more dangerous than driving while drunk. However, others firmly warn against premature adoption.
Criminal defense attorney Adam Banner believes it could “do more harm than good,” by producing inaccurate readings and further complicating a legal system that’s already filled to the brim with cases and appeals. Only time will tell, but this will certainly be an interesting issue to keep an eye on.