The California police are about to have a new weapon in the war on cannabis impaired drivers. The device, nicknamed “the Hound” has just passed its first successful field test. It can also detect not only weed consumed by smoking it but from edibles.
The reason law enforcement types are so excited? It appears to begin to answer the question of when and for how long people are still impaired from cannabis consumption This is an important question for many reasons.
In the short term, when it comes to driving, here is why it is potentially impactful. Impaired driving is an issue but measuring it is equally difficult. Further edibles have a longer lasting impact than smoked marijuana. How do you measure that?
In fact, the body exudes THC in the bloodstream via the breath, much like alcohol. However standard Breathalyzer tests so far have fallen short on almost every level.
The Hound appears to now have solved this first problem. It can only detect THC for a short period of time – which is when THC is literally “on the breath.”
The product will be shipping nationally later this year as an extended beta.
The Race is on to Develop a Cannabis Breathalyzer
There is a full blown race on right now to make and distribute the most accurate breath test for impaired cannabis drivers across the United States and Canada. The Hound is also one of the most promising projects but it is not the only one. In Vancouver right now, Cannabix Technologies is also hard at work on a similar device.
With a potential monopoly on supplying the police in at least two countries right now, the rewards are large.
And while this issue is a sore point for many patients, in particular, the reality is that some kind of testing device for impairment was always inevitable at some point. Further, if devices like this can be used initially in testing drivers’ ability to function after cannabis consumption, it could also be that they could be used in other places. Further the understanding of how and for how long cannabis lasts in the system as a psychoactive substance could help remove stigma in other parts of this discussion.
For all the excitement about legalization, there are still major issues that remain unsolved in most of them. Driving is one of them. But beyond that, issues of employment are also largely unaddressed. Cannabis stays in the human body for a long time. Keeping employment in the United States in an environment where drug tests are in many cases given to keep a job has been a contentious topic for close to 30 years.
Further, since there are no legal protections for cannabis users in employment law, this prohibition plus the ability to test for consumption even when not at work has created a situation which nobody likes. Cheating drug tests have become a whole cottage industry geared at pot consumers.
If there was a test to measure impairment, then a great deal of this stigma could be addressed. And the first place that is likely to happen is on America’s roads.
Cannabis and Driving
The issue of how cannabis – specifically THC – affects drivers is still a very contentious topic. THC can clearly slow physical response. Reactions can be impaired. However, THC does not impact every user the same way. Further, and this is particularly true of medical users, regular use creates a regular THC presence in the body. This is how urine and blood tests work.
However, unlike other drugs, THC stays in the body for a long time, even after the psychoactive effects have worn off.
A breathalyzer which picks up the “scent” of 30-day THC in your system is doing nothing to measure your impairment at the moment.
What the Hound appears to do is catch users when they have a certain percentage of active THC in their bloodstream.
If this is the case, it could also be used to test people in employment situations.
For now, the product is geared for police and drivers.
Is this Really a Police Issue?
On one level, the issue of impaired driving and public safety concerns everyone. With medical use now legal in 44 states, this also becomes a major, pending topic that police face every day. Legislators in every state are also under pressure to begin regulating the use and the industry.
While breathalyzers are not a popular topic for advocates, they are standard equipment for the police.
What these new tools might also do is help define a very slippery debate in a way that addresses the issues of both sides of this problem.
If cannabis impairment can be biologically defined as the period of time where THC can be measured in breath, then longer term drug testing for cannabis may be on the way out.