We don’t officially advocate driving while under the influence of anything, at least until the courts start to acknowledge that titration to cannabis is similarly possible as it is with powerful pharmaceuticals. That said, those who take the wheel after toking may have something new to look out for: the cannabis breathalyzer. A number of companies are sure to be in development, but Cannabix Technologies is determined to get there first.
The new device claims to be able to accurately prove the presence of THC up to two hours from the point of consumption. Its makers aim for it to be used more as confirmation of police suspicions than an independent method of identification, posing questions about limitations and personal rights. Will cannabis breathalyzers be treated the same as those for alcohol? What will the required conditions for its use be? There are no clear answers at this point, but investors sure seem happy with the idea. Cannabix Technologies has stated that they are aiming to market to states with zero-tolerance policies first, likely hoping to ride a wave of successful busts and news headlines into newer markets. The device is slated for sale in the US and Canada at this point.
So what’s at stake? If you’re caught driving under the influence of cannabis, your potential punishment depends on which state you’re in. Some states have per se laws, which “forbid any presence of a prohibited substance or drug in the driver’s body while in control of the vehicle, without any other evidence of impairment” – meaning you’re straight out of luck if one of these breathalyzers catches even one nanogram-per-milliliter of THC in your system at the time of arrest. Most states treat marijuana the same as hard drugs like cocaine, opiates and alcohol, delivering severe punishments, fines, license suspension and even jail time for repeat offenders. That’s not to mention the additional punishment related to possession charges, should those apply in your situation.
Luckily, the devices probably won’t work. The attempts show great promise and boast promising methodology (in theory), but the way our bodies metabolize THC and CBDs is different from alcohol; while you can reasonably assume that someone with a high blood-alcohol level (as determined by a traditional breathalyzer) is likely intoxicated at the moment they fail the test, it can’t be proven that the effects of cannabis last as long as it remains present in the body.
That means that you could smoke in the early afternoon, take a nap, go for a jog and completely clear your mind, then get busted for driving to the store later that night, despite not feeling the effects any longer.
There’s no way to tell when someone is intoxicated by marijuana on a biological level; only that it is present in their system in some form. Will that critical fact stop a conviction based on evidence from one of these devices? Possibly, but it will likely come down to the right precedent being set.
While Cannabix Technologies may have something special up their sleeve, it’s unlikely that they’ll soon roll out a model working to such accuracy that it can be used consistently in court. In fact, it may not ever be biologically possible to deliver precision readings of THC levels – but let’s not bet against the determination brought on by opportunity in a capitalist society!
Still curious about how marijuana and driving are being treated in the US? Check out our recent article on marijuana DUIs.