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A Breathalyzer for Marijuana Use is Coming Soon

March 12, 2020

By Susan Chance, courtesy of SBAM Approved Partner ASE

Traditional drugs tests can show if a person has ingested marijuana, but not when. This makes it difficult for employers and law enforcement to know if the person was using while at work, while driving, etc. New technology, in the form of a breathalyzer, is coming.

A breathalyzer created by Hound Labs is already being used by law enforcement in Pennsylvania. In PA, because Marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance under Federal Law, they have a zero-tolerance policy. The PA DUI law states:

(d)  Controlled substances – an individual may not drive, operate or be in actual physical control of the movement of a vehicle under any of the following circumstances:

(1)  There is in the individual’s blood any amount of a:

(i)  Schedule I controlled substance, as defined in the act of April 14, 1972 (P.L.233, No.64), known as The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act;

(ii)  Schedule II or Schedule III controlled substance, as defined in The Controlled Substance, Drug, Device and Cosmetic Act, which has not been medically prescribed for the individual; or

(iii)  metabolite of a substance under subparagraph (i) or (ii).

Currently, blood tests are used for showing how much of a Schedule I drug is in a person’s system. The blood tests are also a requirement for prosecution. More research must be done to set levels for impairment when it comes to marijuana, and these new devices may be able to help. The breathalyzers help police to get impaired drivers off the road. According to a PA State Police Corporal the advanced training teaches the “drug recognition experts” to look at other symptoms such as blood pressure, pulse, and how their eyes react to light.

The Hound Labs technology stores 100 results, and their breathalyzer stores two breath samples in separate cartridges so one can be processed on the spot, and the second can be saved for future testing. The lab cites a clinical trial from the University of California in San Francisco which confirmed that THC can be detected in a person’s breath for up to three hours after they smoke marijuana and when they are most likely to be impaired.

Ervin Sejdic, Associate Professor of electrical and computer engineering, and Alexander Star, professor of chemistry from the University of Pittsburgh, and their team, have also developed marijuana breathalyzer technology. Their technology uses “carbon nanotubes 100,000 times smaller than human hair.” The THC molecules bind to the surface of those nanotubes which change the electrical properties of the nanotubes. Star believes that the nanotube technology will be the same, or better than, current “gold standard” testing.

The creators of both devices believe the technology can be available on a wide scale within a year’s time. This is good news for law enforcement and for employers as the time frame in which a person has used the substance cannot be detected by current technology.

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