Marijuana Breathalyzers in California? Lawmakers Propose Action if Drug Legalized.

Talks of marijuana legalization in California have spurred lawmakers and law enforcement officers to mull the possible introduction of breathalyzers with the ability to test drivers for the drug, in an effort to curb marijuana DUIs.
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This is certainly not the first time the issue of driving under the influence of marijuana has arisen in the Golden State. In fact, there has for some time been talk and even a few failed attempts to establish a formal legal threshold for how much marijuana is too much when behind the wheel. Several other states, including Colorado and Washington, have passed legislation that establishes marijuana intoxication as a measurement 5 or more nanograms of THC per each mililiter of blood.

Of course, these laws have been highly controversial in light of the fact that marijuana is processed in the body much differently than alcohol and even many other drugs. While you are likely to find little to no trace of alcohol in a person’s body 24 to 48 hours after consumption, evidence of marijuana consumption is going to remain in the body for days if not weeks after it has been consumed. For those who ingest it on a regular basis (think medical marijuana patients) the levels of the drug in their system are inevitably going to be higher. That doesn’t necessarily mean the individual is intoxicated.

So that brings us to marijuana breathalyzers.

Most people are familiar with breathalyzers that detect alcohol in one’s breath. In fact, most states have implied consent laws that require drivers to submit to such testing if it’s requested by a police officer, or risk an automatic driver’s license forfeiture for a year.

Alcohol breathalyzers have been around for many years, although their validity and accuracy continues to be tested in courtrooms across the country. In some places, like D.C., prosecutors have been forced to toss hundreds of DUI convictions or pending cases because breathalyzers were shown to be producing inaccurate results.

Marijuana breathalyzers are even less tried and tested.

Just earlier this year, a Swedish firm developed a breath testing device that can reportedly reveal the presence of 12 different substances, including marijuana, cocaine, heroin, morphine and methamphetamine.

Many law enforcement agencies have been quietly eying the technology, as proof of drug intoxication is much more difficult than it seems. Many narcotic DUI cases rely heavily upon on-scene officer observations, which are far from scientific. Even if blood tests reveal the presence of certain substances, it won’t necessarily tell you whether a person is impaired.

The machines reportedly were still able to detect drugs on a person’s breath even 23 hours after consumption. According to Swedish researchers, the machine was able to correctly test the drug in 87 percent of the cases.

However, it’s unclear whether prosecutors would want to go to court with a test that had a 13 percent margin of error. Plus, the machine is so far unable to detect concentrations of the drug in one’s breath – only the presence of it. In that sense, it sort of leaves us where we started.

Some have suggested that the machines could be used on scene to confirm the presence of the drugs and that measures of concentration could be tested by blood later.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:
Pot Breathalyzers May Come if California Legalizes Marijuana, Oct. 24, 2013, By George Kiriyama, NBC Bay Area
More Blog Entries:
Arizona Prosecutors: Medical Marijuana or Driver’s License, Sept. 1, 2013, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog