Marijuana DUI Testing: The New Technology for Police

Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images
Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images

While the legal marijuana industry has been quietly blowing up in a handful of states, law makers and law enforcement have mostly been relegated to the sidelines. Voters in legalized states have made it quite clear that they want cannabis prohibition ended, and with it, enforcement of the many laws that often target the poor and minorities. But there is one thing that people do want enforced: driving under the influence.

We all know someone who claims to see a sharp spike in driving ability when under the influence of cannabis. Gallup polls even support this notion, with large percentages of Americans saying they feel marijuana will actually lead to safer roadways, rather than make them more treacherous. The basic logic is that marijuana and its derivative products are safer than alcohol – which is true, in many aspects. But when it comes to getting behind the wheel? Things are still up for discussion.

Though there is some evidence marijuana legalization has made the roads safer, studies are coming out that point to the contrary. It’ll often boil down to an argument over whether driving drunk or stoned is better, which is mostly irrelevant. The point is that driving under the influence of anything is typically a very bad idea – and law enforcement agencies are hard at work trying to figure out a solution.

That answer, it appears, is going to be applying DUI laws to those driving while high. This has been a very contentious topic – traditional breathalyzers aren’t built to detect cannabis in a driver’s system, and the only real way to get a read on whether or not someone is driving under the influence of marijuana is highly questionable. For example, police officers taking blood samples and testing for evidence face some serious problems. Marijuana traces can be in a person’s blood for weeks after use, and taking someone’s blood at a traffic stop seems fairly Orwellian, when you think about it.

But the cops are catching up. Marijuana DUI technology has been cooking in laboratories across the country, and we’re finally getting a first look at it being used in the field.

This is a problem still isolated to a few states in the U.S. – namely Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, the only states to have fully legalized cannabis. For that reason, this technology has been relatively slow to develop. But we’re seeing a handful of companies, with backing from government grants, finally put their products in the field.

KING 5, a Seattle-based NBC affiliate, recently ran a report detailing the experimentation and adoption of these new technologies by the state police force, the Washington State Patrol. According to that report, the WSP has been looking at all kinds of technology and devices that it hopes to one day implement, but hasn’t decided on a winner.

As for how some of these devices actually work? Instead of requiring a blood sample, it looks like the new batch of marijuana breathalyzer technology will focus on far less invasive measures, like requiring only perspiration, in some cases. “Whether it’s measuring THC on the breath or in the saliva, some are looking at transdermal applications, so just measuring off of sweat from the body,” Lt. Rob Sharpe, commander of the impaired driving section of the Washington State Patrol, told KING 5.

“If we’re going to adopt something in Washington, we want to make sure it’s very reliable and accurate and doesn’t suffer from false positives or false negatives that could occur,” he added.

This is an example of how Washington state, in particular, is looking to add marijuana DUI enforcement protocols to its list of responsibilities. Similar efforts are underway in other states, like Colorado. According to a report from The Denver Post last summer, as many as 12% of the Colorado State Patrol’s DUI cases involved drivers under the influence of marijuana. And just like in Washington, CSP has initiated a pilot program to sort through the new slate of technologies hitting the market.

So, what do you need to know about these technologies? Law enforcement agencies aren’t offering up much in terms of details, but if you’re someone who uses cannabis and then gets behind the wheel, just know that it’s going to become much riskier to do so  – and that’s on top of the fact you shouldn’t be doing it anyway.

The new batch of technology does look like it’s going to analyze sweat, body oil, or saliva, rather than blood. These tests are likely coming to a highway near you, so if you have a habit of driving under the influence (even if you’re vaping), you should know that the cops are catching on – and fast.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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