A company in California has claimed that it has developed a new type of breathalyzer that can detect not just the amount of alcohol on someone's breath, but also THC, as well. Because THC is the hallucinogenic compound in marijuana, the device – if it works – would be a huge development in the law of operating under the influence (OUI) in Maine.
Hound Labs Claims to Have Developed a Breathalyzer for Marijuana
Hound Labs, a company based in Oakland, California, says that it has come up with a way to detect trace amounts of THC on someone's breath.
THC is the hallucinogenic compound in marijuana that could, in theory, make it more difficult to drive a car. However, THC stays in a person's blood for days and in their urine for weeks after the effects of marijuana have worn off, making it useless for determining whether someone is stoned, right now. Because that is the kind of evidence that police need in OUI cases, blood and urine tests that find THC doesn't mean much.
However, THC only stays on someone's breath for a few hours after inhalation – basically the same amount of time that marijuana has an impairing effect.
According to Hound Labs, their device is able to detect trace amounts of THC on someone's breath – all the way down to 1 picogram, or a trillionth of a gram.
They also claim that their portable breathalyzer can detect alcohol on someone's breath at far more precise levels than existing breathalyzers.
Why This Would Be a Big Deal
Drunk driving law used to rely on nothing more than the eyewitness testimony of an arresting officer to pursue OUI charges. Because everyone acts differently when they are drunk, and because the arresting officer often has only a couple of minutes to interact with an OUI suspect before deciding whether they are under the influence or not, this resulted in lots of innocent people being arrested, accused, and convicted for OUI.
It wasn't until the 1970s that states began passing OUI laws that made it a crime not to be drunk while behind the wheel, but to have a blood alcohol content, or BAC, at or over the legal limit of 0.08%. While this legal limit is arbitrary – many people over the limit are still capable of safe driving, while many who are still under it are not – it did inject a semblance of objectivity into drunk driving law.
Drugged driving law, though, does not have a legal limit, yet. Instead, police are still given wide discretion and power to arrest someone for driving while under the influence of marijuana, and then provide persuasive evidence in court.
The lack of a legal THC limit for driving, though, is largely because there has not been a reliable and practical way of detecting it in OUI suspects.
If this device is all that its makers say it is – something that we will have to wait and see about – we could be seeing some huge changes in OUI laws in the near future.