Breathalyzers are one of the most common tools law enforcement uses to determine whether a driver has a blood alcohol content above the legal limit of .08%. Testing for marijuana, however, has been a challenge because the drug stays in the body for up to a month after the intoxicating effect wears off. This is a problem for law enforcement because there are an estimated 14.8 million motorists here in the U.S. who have used marijuana within an hour of getting behind the wheel to drive.
Now several companies expect to sell marijuana breathalyzers in the second half of 2020. One by the name of Hound Labs announced that its breathalyzer device would show if a driver smoked marijuana within the last three hours. That window of time, the company points out, is when marijuana users are most impaired. Another company out of Canada (which has legalized recreational use of marijuana) named SannTek also claims that it has a device that accurately determines if the driver is impaired.
Current method involves DRE
Officers in states, as well as nearby Washington, DC, currently rely upon Drug Recognition Experts (DRE) officers trained to recognize drivers who appear to be intoxicated but do not show signs of alcohol use. They reportedly can identify drivers on different types of legal and illegal drugs, but the only way to get an accurate reading is to draw blood, which is expensive and time-consuming. These officers also spend a lot of time in court as expert witnesses.
Law enforcement not yet ready
The technology that goes into these new devices is still in testing. One reason is that the equipment must be more sophisticated than the alcohol testing precursors — the amount of THC is billions of times less than alcohol. Law enforcement will also need to be trained to use it properly.
This means that potential court prosecution will still, in part, be based on expert testimony by officers. It continues to leave room for human error, putting cases in jeopardy of rulings based on less than concrete evidence.