The prospect of a marijuana breathalyzer has been bandied about for some time, though research groups are much more willing to discuss the concept than any hard science or developments. While no one can fault a team of researchers for refusing to show the competition its hand, the sparsity of information on the technological possibility of accurately measuring real-time THC intoxication lends itself to understandable skepticism. Still, several companies claim that an accurate marijuana breathalyzer is on the horizon and this could actually be great news for cannabis legalization.
UPDATE: California to Begin Testing in the Fall
At the time that we originally published this blog, the marijuana breathalyzer was stumbling much more than it was running. However, Hound Labs have been fine tuning their product in the years since this blog first ran. California police are scheduled to begin field testing the Hound Labs cannabis breathalyzer this fall (2018).
The Problem of Real-Time Intoxication
Hound Labs, Inc., one of the companies at the forefront of developing a marijuana breathalyzer, revealed last week that they will begin testing their technology in early 2016. Headed by CEO and physician Dr. Mike Lynn, the Oakland, California-based Hound Labs, Inc. is working closely with researchers in the science division of UC Berkeley to hone the science necessary to work around the manifold problems associated with thoroughly detecting levels of cannabis intoxication with immediate results. Marijuana testing kits can easily indicate whether a subject has partaken in the use of cannabis but such tests aren't adequately equipped to reveal a state of real-time intoxication. Likewise, such tests rely heavily on swabs of saliva, blood tests, or urine samples, all of which are slightly more complex than a simple puff into a breathalyzer. Yet law enforcement are demanding a simple testing solution that can produce immediate data on a driver's impairment. Historically, the breathalyzer has been an officer's trusted means and thus researchers are hustling to perfect the science that would make the marijuana breathalyzer a reality.
The Propensity of a Real Marijuana Breathalyzer
Since law enforcement agencies are so keen on a breathalyzer capable of determining real-time cannabis intoxication, San Francisco Bay police have agreed to assist Hound Labs, Inc. in their trials. It's a match that makes perfect sense. Who better to test a product than its chief potential customers? Lynn also has law enforcement experience, serving as a reserve member of the Alameda County sheriff's department. As with other companies trumpeting the development of cannabis breathalyzers, Hound Labs, Inc. is remaining tight-lipped about the actual technology that would make their breathalyzer possible. However, such an ambitious schedule for testing would indicate that they may have actually succeeded in at least getting close to achieving the science required for real-time accuracy.
However, other companies have claimed development of a marijuana breathalyzer only to fall laughably short of the mark. Amanda Chicago Lewis for Buzzfeed
discovered this upon attending the Denver's Marijuana Investor Summit in the early part of 2015. She details an exchange with Cannabix Technologies in which the company offered up their prototype for a marijuana breathalyzer only to admit that the prototype lacked the “components for a positive result.” The representative weakly attempted to excuse a virtually meaningless prototype by promising that all of the technology needed to manufacture a working marijuana breathalyzer was secured at Cannabix Technologies' laboratories. But how are the public supposed to trust the word of a company that knowingly shows up to a tradeshow with a prop attempting to pass it off as a demonstrable prototype?
A marijuana breathalyzer is an obvious win for proponents of cannabis legalization in that it would take at least some of the wind out of the sails of those claiming motorist hazards will increase with cannabis availability. Law enforcement officers will be more at ease feeling that the law can be accurately regulated and motorists, whether they be smokers or non-smokers, will be granted peace of mind. But Lynn points out that an accurate, real-time marijuana breathalyzer is only the first hurdle. Once real-time impairment can be measured, standards need to be set as to what level of THC actually constitutes a motorist's impairment. If all goes well in the testing phase of the Hound Labs, Inc. marijuana breathalyzer, Lynn estimates that we can expect to see it hit the market as early as late 2016 with a price tag set at roughly $1,000.00.