A company in California is promoting what it claims is a breakthrough product: a marijuana breathalyzer.
Company officials say that their product has the ability to protect people who are no longer impaired from being unfairly prosecuted, while also keeping people who are still high off the roadways.
"We are trying to make the establishment of impairment around marijuana rational and to balance fairness and safety," Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn told National Public Radio.
The station reports that Lynn is a former venture capitalist who also works as an emergency room trauma physician and as an active SWAT team deputy reserve -- just the credentials, he says, that give him a window into the dangers of intoxicated driving, while still having sympathy for people who toke.
His Oakland-based firm Hound Labs says the device can detect whether a person has smoked marijuana in the last two hours, in what they argue is the perfect window for considering whether someone is still impaired.
"When you find THC in breath, you can be pretty darn sure that somebody smoked pot in the last couple of hours," Lynn told the station. Several police departments are reportedly testing the device.
The challenges of catching stoned drivers
Police departments working in states where weed is legal have struggled to determine how to combat stoned driving.
While consuming weed while driving is already against the law in states like California, prosecuting someone who smoked before they got behind the wheel remains more complicated. Researchers say that THC can be detected in a person around 30 days after use, or long after the high has worn off.
Because of these concerns, the California Highway Patrol in 2016 awarded a $3 million grant to researchers at the University of California in San Diego in hopes that they would devise their own marijuana intoxication threshold test.
“The ultimate goal is to find a way to determine if a motorist is impaired by marijuana by examining various body fluids (blood, saliva, breath) and cognitive testing that could be done at the roadside,” UCSD psychiatrist Thomas Marcotte explained at the time. The university has studied cannabis since the 1990s under state laws and grant programs.
While marijuana enthusiasts consider recreational marijuana to be a safe, calming alternative to the volatile effects of alcohol, cannabis can slow reaction time so severely that users may not realize it is unsafe to drive when they are still stoned.
Some research has suggested a link between marijuana consumption and an increase fatal car accidents.