Even though operating under the influence (OUI) is often thought of as another way of saying “drunk driving,” in reality it's far more wide-reaching. It doesn't apply just to people who are behind the wheel of a vehicle and under the influence of alcohol. Instead, it also includes people who are driving while under the influence of drugs, as well.
Unfortunately, enforcing OUI laws in Maine is much trickier when it involves drugs, rather than alcohol. It is far from an exact science, but the amount of alcohol in your bloodstream can be measured. On the other hand, the amount of THC – the chemical hallucinogen in marijuana – in your blood takes weeks to change, making it useless to measure to determine if someone is under the influence, at that particular time.
The problem with this is that it allows police to use their own discretion in determining who is driving while under the influence of drugs, something that often produces inaccurate and unfair results. However, engineers at Stanford University have come up with a breakthrough that can change how law enforcement investigates drugged driving crimes.
Stanford University's “Potalyzer”
A team of researchers at Stanford University, led by a professor of materials science and engineering, Shan Wang, have developed an easily portable device that uses magnetic biosensors to detect THC molecules that can be found in saliva. The device can detect THC concentrations as low as 0 to 50 nanograms per milliliter of saliva, precise enough to satisfy preliminary OUI recommendations of between 2 and 25 THC nanograms per milliliter.
The device measures saliva, as opposed to breath, blood, or urine, because of the lesser privacy expectations that people have in their saliva, and the ease with which police officers in the field can get a meaningful sample.
Process Can Be Used for Other Drugs
While the device is currently only made to test THC levels in drivers to determine if they had smoked marijuana before getting behind the wheel, the process that it uses can easily be altered to test for other drugs, as well. This would allow police to take a more objective measurement of how much of a drug is in a driver's saliva, taking away their discretion to arrest anyone that they have a hunch is high.
OUI-Defense Attorney William T. Bly
Being able to measure how much THC is in an OUI suspect's saliva is a step in the right direction, when it comes to OUI law enforcement. Anything is better than relying on a police officer's “training,” which is no more than a glorified eye-test. However, even if this device for measuring the THC levels in a driver's saliva works as well as its proponents say it will, that does not mean that it will be perfect at determining whether someone is unfit to drive because they are under the influence of drugs. Everyone acts differently when they use marijuana, and being able to put a number on their THC levels – while useful – does not definitively determine whether someone is too high to function properly.