The legalization of marijuana, either recreational or medicinal, has brought a bunch of celebrations and concerns. The new laws are great news for all those that enjoy the drug in moderation as a pastime, those that see it as no different to alcohol. Then there are those that worry about the implications of legalization and the effect of drug use.
Legalization does not mean that the drug is not dangerous anymore. Much as with alcohol, too much can cause physical and cognitive impairments that can affect the health of the users and bystanders. The worst issue here comes with drug-driving – motorists driving while under the influence of marijuana.
Drug-driving is on the rise in some states, and there is a need for tighter laws.
Increased acceptance of marijuana and greater accessibility means that some users may fail to give the drug the respect it deserves.
Those on prescriptions and regular smokers may not consider the impact it could have on motor skills and concentration when driving. This is why police forces are keen to look into new drug testing systems for roadside checks.
Cases are on the rise in Colorado and California. Observations of signs of impairment, such as poor driving, poor response times and bloodshot eyes are only the start for determining a problem. Once the police pull a dangerous driver off the road, they need a fast response.
There is breathalyser for alcohol, so why shouldn’t there also be one for marijuana?
This is precisely what Hound Labs have created in California. This system detects the presence of the THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) compound on the breath. The drug testing device has also proven to be effective with good marijuana. This means that the component is detectable.
There is only a window of a few hours with this device, as the presence of the drug is not detectable past this point. Therefore, it looks at recent use where motorists knowingly took the drug before driving. Those smoking the night before and refraining from driving home until the morning should not get a punishment here.
This breathalyser is not the only tool in development for catching motorists under the influence. Mouth swabs provide oral drug testing similar to that of workplace testing. Saliva samples are easily collected and analysed for traces of the drug. This system is on trial across states that have recently changed their laws.
The San Diego Police force has tested the device for the past month to see if it can help with detection rates. Elsewhere, researchers are also looking into a fingerprint sweat test.
It is all about finding the method with the best detection rating that is accurate and fair to users. A presence of chemicals is not enough to prove impairment and make an arrest.
This is why there are reservations over these new systems and a clear need for further development.
At the moment, there are pros and cons to this saliva test system. The positive side is that this is a pretty simple way to check for the presence of drugs with minimal effort on either side. There is also the fact that this system looks at more than just marijuana.
There is a seven drug panel looking for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamine, amphetamine, methadone and benzodiazepines. The problem is that this system only provides information on the types of chemical signatures present. There is no level of intoxication.
Without precise levels of intoxication, there is no proof or impairment or a risk on the road. Therefore, those that test positive for signs require a subsequent blood test.
On top of this, there is the problem that there is no legal threshold in place. The regulation of impairment is the primary concern here, rather than the method of drug testing.
At the moment, a breathalyzer is a preferable approach, but there are still issues to work out.
The next stage in the fight against drug-driving on America’s roads is to figure out this level of legal intoxication. Motorists and police need this clear line between legal and illegal behavior to make arrests.
In an ideal world, motorists will be able to blow into these breathalyzers or use these fingerprint machines for a clear yes or no answer on their legality. This may be a way off, but the designs and methods of these drug testing machines are improving.
There is also a competition to create the best device. Before long, this should be just like any other DUI test.