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Researchers Working On Creating A Marijuana Breathalyzer


driving marijuana dui duiiThere’s a handful of people working on a marijuana breathalyzer right now. Some have been at it for a few years, and others, like some researchers at Washington State University, are just starting. Per Oregon Live:

Hill said he and WSU doctoral student Jessica Tufariello are working on a handheld device that uses a technique called ion mobility spectrometry to detect THC in someone’s breath.

Right now, officers and prosecutors rely on blood tests to determine how much active THC is present in a driver’s blood. Those test results aren’t immediately available to patrol officers who suspect someone is driving high.

There was a lot of media buzz last week when the research was announced out of Washington, with even many marijuana media outlets claiming that its going to be the future of how marijuana DUIIs are determined. However, I doubt this research, or any research involving a marijuana breathalyzer, will ever be used by officers in the field. Marijuana breathalyzers are built on junk science. Yes, they may eventually be able to detect if a person has marijuana in their system. However, they won’t be able to tell what level of active THC is in a person’s system, or how long ago they consumed marijuana, or most importantly if the person is impaired or not. Marijuana does not affect the system like alcohol does.


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Johnny Green


  1. The truth is marijuana induces enhanced driving making the user extra cautious. Impaired is a term exclusive to alcohol and opioid drugs. This is speaking from reality not fear based hype.

  2. Retired cops have their pension come what may; active duty officers are still addicted to the Prohibition Economy.

  3. These tools are more likely to be abused than used. As Johnny Green says, it is unlikely that the devices will be able to determine impairment, or even if the cannabis use has been recent and heavy enough to reasonably infer impairment. More likely, the devices will just be the same sort of test as what is used now, but more convenient — for the officer, not for the driver. Because a positive will give cops an excuse for more precise testing which even if negative will hugely inconvenience drivers.

    @wowfad:disqus has the right idea; cops should be evaluating drivers for impairment. A driver who is impaired for whatever reason is impaired, and one who is not is not. This is more of an outcomes-based approach and is fairer and more ethical. It also scales better, since an impairment-based approach is intoxicant-neutral, it can be used to measure impairment by any intoxicant, even those we haven’t invented yet. There may be some details to work out (how to deal with people with medical conditions that prevent them from ever passing roadside sobriety tests for example) but these are solvable.

  4. The “buddy” routine (everything you described, really) is quite insidious, if you ask me. What ever happened to investigating crimes that have clearly defined VICTIMS? Fishing around, literally trying to “sniff out” a crime nobody reported — that’s the opposite of making society safer. Real crimes are being committed *and reported by the victims* that get ignored in favor of enforcing “sin” policies. This device tells me law enforcement is going to keep wasting time/money on cannabis enforcement LONG after we legalize, nationally.

    LEAP members notwithstanding, I should say. Although it does bother me that the overwhelming majority of LEAP’s membership are *retired* law enforcement. Someone once pointed out to me how disingenuous it is that cops often grow a conscience *AFTER* they retire, when it no longer matters. They readily (often joyfully) enforce immoral/illogical laws just long enough to collect a pension for doing so. We’re supposed to believe their eyes just opened up once they took off the badge? It’s great those former cops can feel good about themselves post-career by joining LEAP, but that does nothing to change attitudes among cops still on duty.

  5. Coming up with substance-specific detection devices for use by LEO’s to bust people for DUI is never going to work in the long term because it takes the focus away from where it needs to be: evaluating IMPAIRMENT. If you don’t actually care about impairment, you don’t actually care about road safety. Period.

    There’s no “breathalyzer” for Benadryl — taking three or four of those and driving is suicidal. The active ingredient is the same as in sleeping pills. No roadside device is going to determine the impairment of a driver who’s had too much allergy medication. The focus should be on teaching LEO’s to administer sobriety tests, roadside. Yes, it would be “easier” to give cops a “George Jetson” solution that does their jobs at the push of a little red button. Yes, it means cops will need the right training to do sobriety tests that are substance-independent. So what??? That’s the way it should be!

    The efforts of this grad student in Washington are not going to save any lives. What’s the motivation for it, really? Where’s the research demonstrating how “stoned driving” is an epidemic that requires this new toy? Right — there isn’t any. In fact, the research flatly says the opposite. Anderson and Rees published their findings, last year, in the Journal of Law and Economics. Those findings made their way into the CRS report on the feasibility of taxing and regulating cannabis to demonstrate how the harms of cannabis legalization to society have been GROSSLY exaggerated. Their research shows that DUI fatalities in medical cannabis states are *reduced* by an average of 9% when compared to states without medical cannabis.

    Honestly, if you’re not driving impaired, you shouldn’t be pulled over. A “THC breathalyzer” would simply greenlight police to pull over any/every car with a cannabis leaf sticker on the bumper and put “sobriety checkpoints” near any dispensary doing good business. It would be nothing but a way for LEO’s bitter over cannabis legalization to exact their subjective “justice” from stoners they feel they should still have the right to marginalize and push around. Such a device would have virtually NO positive impact, at all.

  6. Oh, they’ll use it all right. They can’t determine if you’re impaired by making you do the stupid human tricks by the side of the road, because the vast majority of people can easily pass while baked. So, instead of accepting this as prima facie evidence that weed doesn’t actually cause impairment in most people, they’ll follow up by making you blow into their magic stoner detector. When you show a positive result, out come the cuffs, and off you go to the hospital for a blood draw.

    Rational members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition aside, cops in general don’t like stoners. They know that we are, almost to a person, anti-authoritarian, and they can’t stand anyone who doesn’t respect their auth-or-it-tah.

    In Colorado and Washington we’re already seeing police reports of significantly increased numbers of arrests for impaired driving, reports which conveniently ignore a concurrent drop in accident and death rates. That’s because cops are pursuing potential burners much more aggressively; they predicted there would be mayhem on the highways, and they’re determined to prove it, even if they have to create a mirage.

    When I was taking my EMT course, a number of highway patrol officers were enrolled. Because they were surrounded by other current and potential emergency responders, they felt comfortable sharing some inside dirt.

    One of the cops told us about his personal script for trapping stoners. He’d almost casually ask if they had smoked recently, implying that he didn’t care if you burn, just as long as it wasn’t before driving. Once he had them on his side, he’d ask when they last smoked. Thinking they were in the clear, some would allow that they had smoked in the past, just not right then.

    At that point he’d insist on a blood test, confident that there would be THC present. In that state (Utah) you automatically lose your license for six months for refusing to take a test when an officer has reasonable suspicion–which he did, since people handed it to him. Check-mate.

    I guarantee, that cop would love a magic stoner detector. Be careful out there.

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