How The New Marijuana Breathalyzers Work

Marijuana breathalyzer tests may soon become standard equipment.

Marijuana breathalyzer tests may soon become standard equipment.

How The New Marijuana Breathalyzers Work

New technology will allow officers to test for marijuana on someone’s breath, and could save lives.

One version of the pot breathalyzer is being developed by a chemist at the University of California Berkely. Matt Francis has been working on the project for the last 18 months.  “We had to develop some new chemistry that can actually be done.  It was not obvious when we started that we could tag this.”  The technology would allow officers to be able to detect marijuana on someone’s breath and determine if they had smoked it recently.

Mike Lynn, the CEO of Hound Labs has also been working on a similar product for a long time.  “We have tremendous interest from not only law enforcement, employers who are struggling with this problem, but also the cannabis industry who knows you can’t be driving stoned.  Everybody really accepts that.”  Lynn believes the breathalyzer will actually be a good defense for drivers who are not stoned at the time of the stop.

Law enforcement currently uses blood which can’t be done roadside and doesn’t give an accurate timeframe for use. THC can linger in the body for days or even a month but breath will give a better indicator of how recently it was used.

Officers in target areas recently did a field study to determine the accuracy of the new breathalyzer and whether or not it can detect marijuana infused foods.  The study found that the breathalyzer from Hound Labs can indeed determine the recent use of marijuana through smoke inhalation or pot-infused foods.  Mike Lynn, expects mass distribution of the breathalyzers to hit the streets at the beginning of next year.

There is a testing challenge right now to confirm the laboratory equipment and the accuracy of its results.  Then the correlating specific measurements (given in picograms of THC) with levels of intoxication.  Different law enforcement departments are being enlisted to help with data collection to validate the test.  Lynn hopes to get them out to 6 or so departments to do the field testing.

Hound Labs version would include a built in breathalyzer to hopefully give them a leg-up on competition.  Their version would include inexpensive single-use cartridges that “tag” tiny THC molecules and make them detectable.

Other companies are venturing in to oral fluid tests and a futuristic fingerprint-sweat test.  Dr. Paul Yates a forensic scientist and business development director at U.K.-based Intelligent Fingerprinting says the sweat test devices can be calibrated for thresholds of marijuana and other types of narcotics.  They expect the device to be available early next year.  Yates says that a validation process in underway also, contrasting results with urine and oral fluid test results.  Yates expects law enforcement to be among the first American buyers.

Roadside tests are nothing new to law enforcement.  Many believe that having a device that has scientific backing and research behind it will not only bring better arrests but a higher conviction rate. Law enforcement has no doubt that with the right device, they will be able to gain the same ground with stoned drivers.

Do you think that this should be standard-issued equipment for law enforcement? Let us know on our Facebook page or in the comments below.