First marijuana breathalyzer test created by California company

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A California company said it has created the first marijuana breathalyzer test, which has the potential to be used by police to detect whether drivers have used the drug. 

As more states legalize marijuana for recreational and medical use, law enforcement officials have grown increasingly concerned about individuals driving while high. Until now, police officers in the U.S. did not have any roadside means to determine whether a driver had consumed cannabis.

They have depended mostly on field sobriety tests developed to catch alcohol use, or on personal observation, which is subject to deception. But Oakland-based Hound Labs wants to make testing for marijuana as easy as testing for alcohol.

"We are trying to make the establishment of impairment around marijuana rational and to balance fairness and safety," CEO Mike Lynn told NPR, explaining that his company has created a breath test to detect THC, the principal psychoactive ingredient in cannabis

“This is a disposable cartridge. And there's a whole bunch of science in this cartridge,” Lynn explained to NPR, showing the reporter the product. The company says the cartridge can detect marijuana use within the past two hours, which many experts consider the peak time for the full effects of THC to kick in.

"When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours," Lynn said. "And we don't want to have people driving during that time period or, frankly, at a work site in a construction zone."

Nine states have legalized marijuana for recreational purposes, and medicinal cannabis has been approved in 31 states. Another dozen states allow the use of the drug for specific medical conditions. Several states also have ballot measures concerning legalization coming up later this year, making high drivers a more pressing concern for police across the country.

In Canada, which moved to fully legalize and regulate cannabis in June with implementation set for October, the government plans for police to begin using roadside saliva tests to test for marijuana. That device is currently awaiting final approval from the Justice Department, according to The National Post. Once in use, officers will simply be able to swab a driver’s mouth to test for THC in their spit.


According to an August 2017 report by The Denver Post, which analyzed federal and state data, the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling overall. The state voted to legalize the drug in November 2012 and it became legal for recreational use in January 2014.

But industry analysts have argued that such data is imprecise, as it relies on blood tests to detect THC.

“Unlike alcohol, THC can remain detectable in the blood stream for days or weeks, when any impairment wears off in a matter of hours,” Taylor West, former deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, told the Colorado newspaper. “So all those numbers really tell us is that, since legal adult-use sales began, a larger number of people are consuming cannabis and then, at some point … [are] driving a car.”

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