Law enforcement officers are trained to detect signs of impairment after pulling a driver over. A big problem, though, is that these signs are most often related to alcohol use, not to the consumption of other substances, like cannabis. Since everyone’s body reacts differently to the consumption of cannabis, it might be difficult for officers to determine on the spot if someone is intoxicated. That's why new drugged driving detection devices are being developed.
When driving, how much THC is too much?
Many states haven’t put a legal limit on how much THC you are allowed to have in your system before getting behind the wheel. Also, it appears that lawmakers are having trouble determining the proper threshold marking drugged driving. Too, it doesn’t help that current testing methods are still very controversial. That’s why new methods and devices are being tested, especially now that many states have legalized medical and recreational cannabis use.
Soon, you might be stopped by police not only to do a regular breathalyzer alcohol test, but also to be subject to an immediate test for THC levels in your saliva or breath (fun, right?).
Up until now, THC levels were measured by drawing blood. The problem is that this psychoactive component of cannabis can stay in your system for up to 30 days after consumption. According to critics of this method, THC presence in your blood does not automatically prove intoxication and impairment. Moreover, it would be impossible for someone to know exactly when there are no more traces of THC in his or her blood. This means you could get in trouble for having THC metabolites in your blood, even though you haven’t consumed any cannabis products for almost four weeks — and that’s not cool.
Different companies are working on so-called drugged driving devices. One of these devices is a little machine which measures active THC levels in your saliva, after swabbing ones mouth for about 10 seconds with a plastic swab stick. The logic behind this approach is that you will only have THC in your saliva if you’ve consumed cannabis in the hours before the test. The device will immediately show how many (if any) nanograms of THC the subject has in their saliva. Of course, for this to mean anything, lawmakers must decide on legal limits when it comes to impairment, with the necessary consequences for people who transgress these limits.
The cost of the saliva testing device
A saliva testing device by Alere Toxicology costs almost $6,000. States, counties, and municipalities might consider this investment because the device doesn’t only test for the presence of active THC, but also for cocaine, opiates, methamphetamines and several other drugs. Also, it might save law enforcement officers a lot of time and money, because blood testing won’t be needed as often anymore.
Breathalyzers for cannabis
Hound Labs is another company working on a THC-detecting device. The startup is currently making a breathalyzer which measures THC levels. The driver must breathe into the device, and a single use cartridge will detect and measure the amount of THC.
The completion of clinical trials is still necessary before the product will be launched in order to test its accuracy and efficiency. Like the saliva testing method, this device would be sold to law enforcement and possibly companies needing drug testing devices.
The cost of the breathalyzer
A breathalyzer will cost between $600 and $1,000. The device uses individual cartridges for each test, which cost about $15 per piece. The price of this breathalyzer is about the same as the one for similar devices used for alcohol testing.
Upcoming research and development
The California Highway Patrol will get $3 million each year, for four years, to do research on testing protocols for drugged driving. We can expect some non-invasive new methods like the ones mentioned above. It’s likely that other states are already working on, or will be in the near future, better ways to test for impairment.
Like with alcohol, once legal thresholds are instated, the government could for example create educational programs to teach young people about the consequences of cannabis consumption, as they currently do with alcohol.