Portable Breathalzyer Tests for Marijuana in Development

Officers who suspect that a driver is under the influence of alcohol can quickly test their own theory. In addition to field sobriety tests, officers can use a calibrated breathalyzer device which should correctly indicate the blood alcohol level of the driver. Nationwide, law enforcement departments are struggling with how to test whether a driver is under the influence of marijuana. The issues is especially problematic in states like Colorado and Washington, where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use. Despite legalization, it is still illegal to drive when incapacitated or over a “legal limit.”


Testing drivers may become easier for law enforcement officers as researchers at Washington State University are working to develop a functional breath test for marijuana users. If successful, the test would allow authorities to detect the levels of THC active in the driver’s blood. In the past, blood tests were used to determine levels of THC, and yet, critics pointed out that THC can appear in blood long after the effects have worn off. So will the new tests account for the disparity?

According to a leading chemistry professor and researcher leading the efforts, the team is looking directly at the chemical that can alter the mind, including perceptions and response time. Slowed response, changes in vision, or hearing, and other perceptions can impact a driver’s behavior and abilities. The goal of the new device is to lower the number of false positives that may turn up in a blood test or if an officer makes an arrest based on other circumstantial evidence. The researchers hope to give authorities more confident when making an arrest, and protect individuals who are not actually incapacitated.

When a driver blows into the device, it does not provide an exact amount of THC in the driver’s system, but it does show if there is active THC. Currently, the legal limit of 5 nanograms, per THC millimeter of blood is the threshold. The researchers acknowledge that additional testing would be needed to sustain a criminal charge. Regulators in Washington have voiced support for the continued research and commercial development of the device. It is also suspected that the innovators who are able to successfully test active THC levels using a breathalyzer device could have an extremely profitable invention. Nationwide, local, state, and national law enforcement agencies will benefit from the technology throughout the country.

One problem with current marijuana testing is that there is no way to know whether a driver is actually impaired. Officers can gauge impairment based on their own observations, but this can be complicated, especially if a driver has a medical marijuana card and a legal right to use marijuana to treat a condition. Our Orange County medical marijuana attorneys are experienced in the investigation of criminal allegations. We will take the time to review the charges against you and develop an effective legal strategy on your behalf. In addition to charges related to driving under the influence, we are also experienced in the defense of more serious charges, including illegal distribution and trafficking.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 949-375-4734.

More Blog Entries:
Getting Started in the Medical Marijuana Industry, May 15, 2014, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog
United States Marijuana Laws Influencing Other Countries
, February 14, 2014, Los Angeles Marijuana Lawyer Blog

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