Called ‘game changer’ by experts, the new device is said to be a billion times more sensitive than those used to check alcohol levels. Concerns have been raised about the risk of an increase in car accidents since recreational use of cannabis became legal in several states.
Tests done by Hound Labs and Sanntek with the device can determine when someone recently had THC, the main ingredient in cannabis which affects a person. This breakthrough could result in more states considering legalizing the product.
Speaking to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Christopher Leusner, head of the New Jersey State Association of Chiefs of Police, said: “With alcohol, if you have over 0.08% in your blood, there’s the presumption that you’re intoxicated.
“There hasn’t been a blood test or a breath test that can determine if you’re impaired by marijuana.”
University of California at Berkeley and San Francisco, with the help of Mike Lynn, an experienced A&E physician from Oakland, who is also a reserve deputy sheriff, developed the new tests.
Where blood tests can show cannabis use from up to four weeks prior, the new tests can tell if someone has smoked or had an edible in the last few hours from their breath, making it likely they would be used for roadside testing.
Lynn said: “It’s about creating a balance of public safety and fairness.
“I’ve seen the tragedies resulting from impaired driving up close. And I have a good idea how challenging it is at the roadside to know whether someone smoked pot recently. But I believe if someone is not stoned, they shouldn’t be arrested.”
The devices can detect very low amounts of THC and are much more sensitive than those used in normal alcohol tests.
It took five years for the team to develop the device so that it can tell the difference between recent consumption and weeks ago. The cost of the device is $5,000 and $20 each for the single-use cartridges, making it affordable for police and employers.
Lynn added: “Employers have the same fundamental problems as law enforcement. They need to maintain a safe workplace, but not have to worry about what their employees do in their free time. Someone can go home, smoke pot just like I’d enjoy a glass of wine, and not test positive.
“Employers are facing a workforce now that has close to full employment. They don’t want to be firing valuable workers, especially for something that’s legal in most states.”
The devices should be ready to go into use next year.