Marijuana on the Roads: Part 4
“Sir/Ma’am, can you step out of the vehicle?” That is a phrase heard by thousands of individuals every year after they are pulled over for driving under the influence of alcohol. According to the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, more than 29 million Americans have admitted to drunk driving, and every year tens of thousands are injured or killed by a drunk driving event. It is safe to say that drunk driving is a huge problem in the United States.
With the march of cannabis legalization carrying on, many individuals have raised legitimate concerns over the proliferation of another intoxicating substance. The reasoning goes that with more legal cannabis comes more intoxicated drivers and as such, more fatal car accidents.
As we covered in Part 3 of Marijuana on the Roads, that line of reasoning doesn’t always hold true. Colorado is currently experiencing a decline in fatal car accidents. That being said, although Colorado roads haven’t devolved into a Mad Max Thunder Dome type of scenario, regulators would be remiss to dismiss the concerns of citizens.
Currently, stoned driving is a crime under most DWI (Driving While Intoxicated) or DUI (Driving Under the Influence) laws; unfortunately, for law enforcement, there are few reliable guidelines when it comes to determining whether someone is high. There are blood tests to test for THC; however, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, THC stays in your body longer than the high lasts, so it is not reliable enough to determine intoxication.
In an effort to develop more reliable marijuana intoxication testing, Kal Malhi, a former Mountie, Dr. Raj Attariwala, a Vancouver radiologist and nuclear medicine physician, and Dr. Bruce Goldberger, a toxicology professor at the University of Florida, have developed the first ever marijuana breathalyzer. Cannabix Breathalyzer, their invention, is based off of a study conducted at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden.
The device reportedly works as a blood glucose meter. Subjects breath into the device, the device analyzes the particulates and then produces its results. Cannabix is currently working with West Point Resources to make the device a reality.
Rav Mlait, CEO of West Point Resources, told CTV News that the device can tell if someone has smoked marijuana within the last two hours. “That two-hour time period just happens to be very, very important for law enforcement,” Mlait said, “because we don’t necessarily want to know if someone has consumed marijuana several hours ago, or 24 or 72 hours ago. We’d like to know if they’ve actually consumed it very recently and gotten behind the wheel of a car.”
Speaking with Vice News, Glenn Davis, Colorado Department of Transportation’s highway safety manager, said his department “would look at any type of technology to help us with our challenges.” Indeed, it would be hard to think of a police department that wouldn’t want a look at the cannabis breathalyzer.
While this recent breakthrough in technology is a big first step in determining if a cannabis user has had too much to smoke, it is still far from perfect. As High Times author Russ Belville points out, the cannabis breathalyzer can only determine when someone has smoked marijuana and not how much marijuana was smoked.
We tread dangerous waters when a person faces jail for drugged driving because of when they smoked and not how much. It is easy to think of cannabis as analogous to alcohol, but the two drugs are just not the same.
West Point Resources plans to release the cannabis breathalyzer, appropriately named the Cannabix Breathalyzer, but only time will tell how effective it will be. No doubt it will lead to some arrests, but the since the testing method is still fundamentally flawed, it is easy to see people getting off for lack of definitive evidence.
Drugged driving is a problem, and it is critical for the state to come up with solutions to fix the problem. However, at the moment, there is no magic bullet which will solve the issue. We cannot simply treat marijuana like alcohol because it is not alcohol; the issues surrounding legal marijuana are wholly their own.
While breathalyzers and blood tests sound like a good idea, they are an alcohol-related solution to a cannabis-related problem. In reality, there needs to be a cannabis solution for this cannabis problem.