Exhale: A Marijuana Breathalyzer Is In The Works

Photo: Jim Mone/Associated Press.
Break the news to your delivery guy gently: It looks like there’s a marijuana breathalyzer in the works.

CBS News is reporting that a California-based laboratory will begin clinical trials for a device that can detect marijuana impairment early next year. Hound Labs, Inc. has been working with researchers at University of California, Berkeley, to come up with a way for law enforcement officers to detect impairment from marijuana in a similar way to how they detect alcohol impairment, which can be used quickly and conveniently in a road stop.

While there are marijuana-detecting devices on the market now, they’re cumbersome and inconvenient, requiring testing of bodily fluids, like urine or blood. They also have unreliable results, with tendencies towards false positives due to benign substances or detecting use from weeks before. The new device will be able to test breath, rather than blood, and it will be more capable of determining if someone is actually impaired in the moment.

A 2013 survey by The National Institute on Drug Abuse found that 3.8% of drivers over the age of 12 had driven under the influence of drugs in the past year, and the most frequent drug used was marijuana. While that’s nothing to the 10.9% who drove while drunk that same year, it’s still almost ten million people. However, the connection between car crashes and driving while stoned is still up for debate, partly because there’s no reliable way to test a driver’s level of impairment in the moment.

Hound Labs’ device will be tested by law enforcement officers in the San Francisco Bay Area. If tests are successful, the laboratory hopes to begin sales at the end of 2016. But Hound Labs isn't the only one working on this task, so it better move quick if it wants to corner the market. Competition is way un-Zen.

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