The world’s first marijuana breathalyzer—said to be able to detect recent use rather than the mere presence of residual THC in the system—will hit the market in 2020.
Northern California-based Hound Labs, which received a funding boost to expedite the device’s release, says their device can distinguish between recent use of marijuana (which implies intoxication) and residual THC, which lingers in the body for about 30 days after use.
A Very Important Distinction
The Hound device’s ability to make this distinction is the key. The lack of a device able to weed out high motorists was a major issue for some law enforcement officials across the country and a key reason cited for opposing marijuana legalization.
“DUI under marijuana is a huge, huge problem. It’s one of the reasons we’ve been against legalization,” said John Adams, district attorney of Berks County in Pennsylvania. “I’ve heard about the breathalyzers. If the technology is out there, it would be a great tool. It would alleviate some of our fears.”
The Hound device is portable and can detect both alcohol and marijuana. The device is comprised of a base station and a hand-held device that, together, retails for about $5,000, according to the Providence Journal.
Mike Lynn, a veteran emergency department physician and reserve deputy sheriff from Oakland, California, collaborated with scientists at the University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco to create the device.
“We wanted to be able to detect THC in people who have recently used it—either eaten the stuff or smoked a joint,” said Lynn. “Those are the people we want to discourage before they go to the workplace or get behind the wheel.”
Currently, medical marijuana is legal in 33 states and Washington, D.C. Recreational marijuana is legal in 11 states and D.C.
“If Someone Is Not Stoned, They Shouldn’t Be Arrested.”
Lynn emphasized the importance of distinguishing between people who are driving while high and people who are driving sober but may still use marijuana off the road.
“It’s about creating a balance of public safety and fairness. I’ve seen the tragedies resulting from impaired driving up close,” said Lynn. “And I have a good idea how challenging it is at the roadside to know whether someone smoked pot recently. But I believe if someone is not stoned, they shouldn’t be arrested.”