Tech companies race to develop marijuana breathalyzer

This will probably be a challenge, because marijuana stays in your system for a long time, and I imagine that if you’re at a party where everyone else is smoking, you’re still going to test positive. But I’m sure the lawyers can figure it all out:

A number of technology companies and entrepreneurial individuals are locked in a race to be the first to develop a commercially viable marijuana breathalyzer. The interest in developing a fast, accurate roadside marijuana test is part of the changing landscape of attitudes and legislation on the drug in the United States. As states continue to relax marijuana bans, the thinking goes, law enforcement authorities will need to invest in faster and more accurate testing methods than the traditional and expensive blood and urine tests.

Cannabix Technologies Inc., a Vancouver-based outfit founded by a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer, expects to be the first company on the market. Although they have yet to announce a release date for their product, the company has a prototype undergoing in-house testing.

Another company, Lifeloc Technologies, currently sells alcohol breathalyzers and are working hard to develop their own marijuana equivalent. Because of the novelty and predicted rarity of the new cannabis breathalyzers, Lifeloc plans to sell them for up to 10x what they charge for the more common alcohol breathalyzer.

Speaking on the efficacy of the new product, Lifeloc CEO Barry Knott said, “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, and in that sense it won’t provide a quantitative evidential measure.”

According to Attorney Karin Porter, “Some of the biggest problems with establishing more specific drug-based DUI laws is the fact that there is currently no accepted standard level of impairment, and there are no devices accurate enough to use a partition ratio to convert a breath sample into a reasonable estimate of THC levels.” Until more research is conducted on the subject, these sorts of laws may be years or even decades away in some states.

One of the main issues facing law enforcement is defining clear standards for what constitutes THC-impaired driving. The research is largely out on marijuana and its effects on drivers, and there is a wide range of standards at the state level.

Washington and Montana have set a limit at 5 nanograms/milliliter, while Pennsylvania capped the limit at 1 ng/mL. Some states have prohibited drivers from having any measurable amount of THC in their system. These zero-tolerance states are the primary market for the early, ‘yes/no’ breathalyzers.

According to Steve Sarich, an expert witness in cases involving THC-related impairment, “If this is just a matter of showing how many people have THC in their systems, then it’s essentially useless.” Ultimately, these early breathalyzers may just be the vanguard of a larger body of THC-testing devices.