Company Says It's Built A Marijuana Breathalyzer, Wants To Roll It Out By The Middle Of This Year

from the how-much-'yes'-is-actually-impairment-tho dept

Breathalyzers have been in use for more than 100 years at this point and we still don’t have all the kinks worked out. Testing equipment used by law enforcement frequently isn’t calibrated or maintained correctly. Some devices have been set up improperly, which leads directly to false positives when the tests are deployed.

Unfortunately, impaired driving isn’t going away. And neither are the tools cops like well enough to deploy in the field, but apparently not well enough to engage in routine maintenance or periodic quality control testing. This is already a problem for citizens, who can find themselves behind bars if the testing equipment is faulty. The problem is only going to get worse as marijuana legalization spreads to more states.

There’s currently no field test equipment that detects marijuana impairment. A company in California thinks it has a solution.

By mid-2020, Hound Laboratories plans to begin selling what it says is the world’s first dual alcohol-marijuana breath analyzer, which founder Dr. Mike Lynn says can test whether a user has ingested THC of any kind in the past two to three hours.

“We’re allowed to have this in our bodies,” Lynn said of marijuana, which became legal to use recreationally in California in 2018. “But the tools to differentiate somebody who’s impaired from somebody who’s not don’t exist.”

We won’t know if these claims are true until the testing equipment is deployed. And even then, we still won’t know if the machines are accurate or the drivers they catch are actually impaired. Marijuana doesn’t work like alcohol, so impairment levels vary from person to person. In addition, there’s no baseline for impairment like there is for alcohol. That will have to be sorted out by state legislatures before officers can begin to claim someone is “impaired” just because the equipment has detected THC. At this point, the tech pitched by Hound Labs only provides a yes/no answer.

There’s a very good chance this new tech will go live before the important details — the ones safeguarding people’s rights and freedoms — are worked out. The founder of Hound Labs is also a reserve deputy for the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office. And it’s this agency that’s been test driving the weedalyzer.

The Alameda County Sherriff’s Office agreed to test the Hound Breathalyzer in the field.

“What we’ve seen trending with the addition of the legalization of cannabis in California is that we are coming across more and more marijuana-impaired drivers,” said Alameda County Sheriff spokesperson Sgt. Ray Kelly.

“It’s not hard to determine if there is THC on someone’s breath if they have been smoking it,” Kelly said. “It’s when they’re ingesting it through edibles, which have become much more popular. That’s extremely valuable to law enforcement.”

These tests are completely voluntary and drivers who submit to them won’t be criminally charged even if the device says they’re under the influence. But in a few months — if everyone agrees they’re good enough to be used on civilians — the tests will no longer be voluntary and the consequences will be very real.

Impaired driving that doesn’t involve alcohol is going to increase with the legalization of marijuana. But this new tech should be greeted with the proper amount of skepticism. Breathalyzers that detect alcohol have been around for decades and are still far from perfect. A new device that promises to detect recent marijuana use just because researchers say consumption can be detected for up to three hours shouldn’t be treated as a solution.

The device is stepping into a legal and legislative void with no established baseline for marijuana “intoxication.” It can only say it does or does not detect THC in a person’s breath. It can’t determine whether the amount is a little or a lot, and no one has any guidance stating how much of a THC concentration should be considered impairing or illegal. But it’s pretty much a given these will hit the roads before the law is ready for them, and that should concern drivers in every state where marijuana is legal.

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Companies: hound laboratories

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Comments on “Company Says It's Built A Marijuana Breathalyzer, Wants To Roll It Out By The Middle Of This Year”

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Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Two questions

  1. Under what law would someone who had consumed marijuana within the last couple of hours be charged? DUI laws are fairly specific about blood alcohol content, and unless some legislators come up with something new, there doesn’t appear to be a law under which to charge them.

  2. Is there any evidence, anywhere, that suggests let’s say Cheech and Chong (no disparagement intended) got as blasted out of their minds as they could and went for a drive that they would be better or worse drivers than if they drove after a weeks abstinence? When considering this, let’s leave the stereotypes inflicted upon us by the entertainment industry aside (I have never seen anyone act like supposed ‘stoned’ people depicted in videos act those ways in real life).
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Two questions

!) In CA, The law which legalized marijuana set similar standards as for alcohol – no smoking, no open containers, don’t be intoxicated. However, the actual limit or how it be tested is not clearly defined.

2) As indicated in the above article, We know that imparement from MJ is on a more individual curve than alcohol. And have no data if imparement can reliably correlate with consumption. Lots of data on alcohol means we know that while things vary from individual to individual, we can, estimate the BAC of a person based on the number of 1.5 oz servings of 80 proof alcohol (a ‘drink’) they have had, time elapsed, and body weight. We also know the BAC directly relates to level of impairment. We have none of that data for MJ.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Two questions

  1. DUI means driving under the influence. It doesn’t specify alcohol so driving under the influence of any substance is enough to get the court date. You have to fight it through the courts.
  2. All testing has shown a decrease in incidents of accidents and speeding. Those studies have been purposefully blocked from publication to prevent you from using them in your defense.
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Two questions

Here’s the law in the UK:

Basically, if you fail any of the tests they have for impairment, you get charged whether the drugs you ingested were legally acquired or not. It’s not about the drugs taken, it’s about being blasted out of your mind to the point where you can’t see properly, spot hazards, etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Two questions

The idea is that the tests they give are correlated with driving performance. (The research on FSTs isn’t particularly strong, unfortunately. Research in this field would definitely be welcome, because an impaired driver is an impaired driver, regardless of whether it was licit, illicit, OTC, or prescription drugs that made them that way.)

Uriel-238 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "An impaired driver"

An impaired driver is an impaired driver, regardless of whether it was licit, illicit, OTC, or prescription drugs that made them that way.

Don’t rule out dementia or a bad head cold. There are a lot of causes for which one should avoid operating heavy machinery.

Part of the problem is that like IQ tests and actual intelligence, I suspect the intersection between passing FSTs and being capable of driving motor vehicles is a far cry from inclusive.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Not just a concern to marijuana users

that should concern drivers in every state where marijuana is legal

This should be a concern to everyone no matter what the legalized status of marijuana is in their state. Alcohol breathalyzers are known to produce false positives when the person hasn’t got a drop of alcohol within 10 miles of their skin, much less in their blood.

The real truth is that no device used on the side of a road should ever be used to prove guilt or innocence. These things need to always be tested in a lab. Anything less than that cannot prove what any substance is not matter what form it’s in.

Michael says:

Re: Re: Re:

Blood alcohol levels tested by a traditional breathalyzer get the alcohol from the air contact with the blood in the lungs. You have not inhaled anything (hopefully) and it will appear on the test. Alcohol directly injected with a needle will still show up (plus, the whole you being dead while driving will be a problem).

Assuming their test is similar for THC, the method of ingestion would not matter.

If their test is somehow testing residual in the lungs from inhalation, they are going to quickly run into experts in court that will be explaining their snake-oil is not going to produce any sort of accurate result.

Christenson says:

Intoxication and hazardous driving

There’s a definite conundrum here…

reading elsewhere today, people develop tolerance to opiates, and also alcohol, and miss MJ… (and as others have noted, do lots of other things to get impaired, too, all legal..don’t sleep, high on benadryl, etc)

So while BAC, MJ level, etc do positively correlate with decreasing skill at driving, slowing down also decreases the hazard, but none of these things are at all good independent measurements of how much hazard is present. Not that cops judgement is going to be fair, mind you. But it sure looks, absent other correlates, like actual accidents or traffic violations, like these measurements are just excuses….. but I am at a loss to suggest a more fair system.

Anonymous Coward says:

Secret to the detector technology...

It’s based on the proven "magic 8 ball" technology that’s been in use for many many years…

Only now it’s digitized and 7 of the 10 answers prove some level of ‘impairment’, while 3 out of 10 allow those being accosted to proceed on their way…

What could be fairer than using proven technology to drive up police revenue?

PS. I have the copyright/patent/trademark on this device methodology, and will be suing at the appropriate time…

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