One of the main concerns surrounding the decriminalization and legalization of marijuana deals with how the traffic officials will grapple with cannabis impaired drivers. What constitutes legal intoxication and how much marijuana can a user consume before becoming a danger to others on the road?
Colorado blazes the trail
The state of Colorado has put forth House Bill 1117 as a suggested answer to this problem. Under this bill, 5 nanograms of THC per ml of blood denotes that the user is legally intoxicated.
The problem with this method is that it requires blood screening. This is usually undertaken in a dedicated laboratory. Police officers and traffic officials will not be able to conclusively test for marijuana impairment at standard road blocks.
Another issue is that while 5 nanograms may be a good place for policy to start, it does by no means definitive when it comes to establishing how high is too high.
A common problem related to currently available marijuana breathalyzers deals with the inaccuracy of the devices. In many cases a false-positive result is returned. The potential for civil suits against the government for false arrest becomes problematic.
THC is fat soluble. The body is able to absorb THC and retain it within the metabolism for an extended period of time. This makes it difficult to gauge the levels of intoxication according to the presence of THC in the bloodstream. Habitual cannabis users can have detectable amounts of THC in the blood for up to 30 days after stopping smoking.
No body of evidence is able to correlate the amount of THC in the blood to specific levels of impairment. THC does however impact on visual perception and reduces motor function ability and coordination.
British Columbia to the rescue
Canada’s Liberal government is intending to introduce legislation which will legalize recreational marijuana use by as early as spring of 2017. With this in mind, the race to develop an effective handheld device capable of monitoring THC levels at roadside stops was on.
Professor Mina Hoorfar, an engineering academic at the University of British Columbia has teamed up with PhD student Mohammad Paknahad. Together they began working on a prototype in the fall of 2013.
The final product is now available. It is able to detect trace amounts of THC and costs a mere $15 dollars to produce using 3D printers. Nicknamed “The Sniffer”, Hoorfar’s device comes equipped with Bluetooth technology. This will allow users to monitor their own intake by means of a smart-phone. This will mean it is not only a tool for law enforcement agencies, but will also benefit marijuana users who wish to make an informed and responsible decision as to whether or not to get behind the wheel.
Hoorfar has explained that “The Sniffer” is far more accurate than contemporary methods and will eliminate false-positives that are known to occur. It is also capable of working under extreme conditions.
There will undoubtedly still be much controversy surrounding the use of marijuana. Whether or not Hoorfar’s device will serve its purpose in being able to measure a standard unit in the field remains to be seen.
The general consensus is that marijuana users are less likely to drive when under the influence. This does not mean that people under the effects of weed pose any less danger to themselves or other road users.