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Police Test Marijuana Breathalyzer On California Drivers

By Kelly Burch 09/16/16

The Hound Labs breathalyzer can detect marijuana as well as alcohol.

Police Test Marijuana Breathalyzer On California Drivers
Hond Lab Breathalyzer Photo via Tomo NewsYouTube

With many states legalizing marijuana, there has been concern over how to monitor impaired driving. Now, as five states gear up to vote on recreational marijuana this November, a marijuana breathalyzer has been used by the police for the first time.

The device is manufactured by Hound Labs, and CEO Mike Lynn is both an emergency room doctor in Oakland, California, and a reserve officer with the Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

Lynn and another officer pulled over drivers suspected of impaired driving during the initial field tests, although use of the breathalyzer was optional. 

“Basically everyone agreed because they were curious,” Lynn told US News & World Report. “The objective was not to put people in jail but to educate them and use the device if they volunteered so we could get the data.”

Although the drivers were not arrested, they were required to find another ride home. 

The Hound Labs breathalyzer can detect marijuana (smoked or ingested) as well as alcohol. Lynn hopes that this next-generation breathalyzer will be fair to both sides of the marijuana debate. While current tests can detect THC, Lynn says his breathalyzer can measure the concentration of the drug. 

“It’s not as if every breathalyzer will be replaced overnight [but] it will completely change the ability to recognize stoned drivers," said Lynn last year, "[and] our technology also will prevent the wrongful arrest of people who have some THC in their system but are not impaired.” 

Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern told US News last year that he's eager to use THC breathalyzers.

“Current methods for testing THC are not practical for the roadside,” Ahern said at the time. “On top of that, results can take weeks and will only tell us if marijuana is in a person’s system. By measuring THC in breath, Hound Labs, Inc. will help us get impaired drivers off the road and also make sure that unimpaired individuals who happen to have some THC in their system aren’t wrongfully arrested.”

Lynn hopes to have the breathalyzer distributed within six months. 

Hound Labs is not the only company working on a THC breathalyzer, although it appears to be the closest to market. Another company, Cannabix Technologies, said in a July press release that it is currently trying to reduce the size of its product. 

Other devices, including Intelligent Fingerprinting, detect traces of drugs in sweat from one's fingertips. That device is likely to be available next year, according to US News

“We do have a significant stable of cities and counties that are interested in piloting and thus validating our product for roadside [driving under the influence of drugs] stops," said Duffy Nabors, vice president for sales and marketing at Smartox, the company that distributes the fingerprint technology. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.

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