Funny, how lack of research has kept cannabis use from being legal for quite some time, yet the rush to be able to provide a “breathalyzer” for THC impairment is a hot topic and being embraced by government agencies quickly. Minimal research exists on how cannabis affects driving. The bigger issue is simply, that the devices do not determine impairment. Someone could conceivably use or consume a small dose without being high, yet still could have THC detected in their breath.
A solution for measuring alcohol intoxication has existed since 1954: the Breathalyzer. However, technology for THC doesn’t necessarily exist for cannabis – AND – unlike alcohol, there’s not a defined standard for what “threshold” of THC concentration truly measures impairment, if at all. Critics note the technology must detect recent cannabis use and also prove that cannabis in a person’s system impaired his or her driving. A cannabis breathalyzer that does both of those things has proven elusive, because, unlike alcohol, cannabis can stay in people’s bodies long after their “high” has worn off.
Oklahoma lawmakers last week approved a bill requiring the Department of Public Safety (DPS) to spend $300,000 on creating a pilot program for breathalyzers that test for cannabis impairment, the Oklahoman reports. Under the program, the results of the test would not be admissible in courts.
Spokeswoman Sarah Stewart, safety advocate at the OK DPS told the Oklahoman that it could take up to a year for the pilot program to be operational because the agency has to come up with program rules and may end up having to bid out that work. She indicated that officials will want to see if other states have done similar pilot programs.
The state is reportedly considering using a THC breathalyzer from California-based Hound Labs. CEO Mike Lynn has said that their device can accurately detect cannabis use within the last two hours. Back to the fundamental problem though – using cannabis within 2 hours does not constitute a universally agreed upon level of impairment, if any.
If we’re fortunate, we’ll have access to the data from the Oklahoma pilot and that regulators across legal states will be able to use the pilot results to form policy that is both accurate and fair.