Home News New Tech: RCMP officer develops hand-held pot breathalyzer

New Tech: RCMP officer develops hand-held pot breathalyzer

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As cannabis bans are relaxed in more U.S. states, several companies are coming up with the technology to produce a roadside breathalyzer to test people who may be driving while high.

A Vancouver-based company founded by a police officer, expects to be first out of the gate with a “pot breathalyzer” – a handheld device similar to those used to detect alcohol, according to Reuters.

Another Colorado-based company that sells alcohol breathalyzers, hopes to develop a similar device to detect pot but expects to charge $2,500-$3,500 for its cannabis version.

“I think the first breathalyzer on the market will be a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for the presence of THC at the time of the test, and in that sense it won’t provide a quantitative evidential measure,” said Barry Knott, the chief executive of Lifeloc.

The size of the potential market is unclear, however, because of the unreliable data on those driving under its influence.

Marijuana is illegal under U.S. federal law but is allowed for medical use in about half the country’s states. Others, including Oregon and Colorado, also allow recreational use.

A roadside breathalyzer would replace a complicated assortment of costly blood and urine tests that can take days to get a result. But even these tests are a long way from showing impairment, as the science on how cannabis affects driving is far from settled, the report said.

“If this is just a matter of showing how many people have THC in their systems, then it’s essentially useless,” said Steve Sarich, who runs a cannabis advocacy group and serves as an expert witness for cases involving THC-related impairment.

Traffic stop. Screen shot from video.
Traffic stop. Screen shot from video.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, says cannabis impairs psychomotor skills, attention, lane tracking and cognitive function, but not enough is known about how much is needed to affect driving performance, according to Reuters.

One basic problem though, developers say, is that a few blows are typically sufficient to determine alcohol levels, but with a marijuana breathalyzer we’d have somebody blowing like 20 times.

Another issue is that some states have not reached consensus on how much THC is too much to drive. Others like Washington and Montana have already set their limits.  Some states prohibit drivers from having any measurable amount of cannabis in their system.

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