It has been more than 20 years since medicinal marijuana was legalized in California. Since then, California has joined the increasing number of states that have legalized recreational use of pot. With increased access to the marijuana plant, edibles, and concentrates, it is no surprise that the number of drivers with THC in their system has also increased.
One of the problems with arrested individuals for driving under the influence of marijuana in California is that the drug has a relatively short period where it affects the individual but traces of the drug can be found in the body long after the effects have worn off. The police can ask drivers to take a breath test for alcohol using a preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) device. However, so far, there is no similar test for marijuana.
Law Enforcement Testing a Marijuana Breathalyzer in the East Bay
According to Hound Labs, the Northern California-based company that created the pot breathalyzer, their device is being tested by Alameda County Sheriff's Officers to “catch impaired drivers.”
A local ABC 7 news report claims, “Oakland-based Hound Labs provided us with video of the Alameda County Sheriff's Office testing out their device, a breathalyzer that can detect the presence of THC, the psychoactive component in cannabis that makes you high.”
According to the news report, “the Alameda County Sheriff's Office agreed to test the Hound Breathalyzer in the field.” However, it would be surprising to use the device during a traffic stop considering how little evidence there is that the device works or has been tested independently.
The founder of the company, Mike Lynn, is also a reserve Alameda County Sheriff's officer. Lynn claims the device was created in collaboration with researchers from UC Berkeley and UC San Francisco. However, there is no California state limit for gauging impairment based on this saliva test.
If you were pulled over for a traffic stop in Alameda County and the sheriff's officer had you take a breathalyzer test to test for marijuana, and you were arrested for a drug DUI, contact your Alameda County DUI defense lawyer. The law enforcement officer may not have been playing by the rules during the traffic stop and arrest.
Reliability of Roadside Tests
One of the problems with relying on a roadside breathalyzer for marijuana is that it may be as unreliable as the preliminary alcohol screening (PAS) device. The roadside breathalyzer for alcohol has been around a lot longer but is still too unreliable to be used as evidence of the driver's blood alcohol content (BAC) in court.
Roadside Saliva Tests for Marijuana
Other marijuana tests being developed check saliva rather than breath. According to the American Chemical Society, researchers at the University of Texas, Dallas have reportedly developed THC sensor strips as well as an electronic reader.
“People have the perception that driving after smoking marijuana is safer than driving drunk, but both substances can have similar effects, such as slowed reaction time, diminished alertness and reduced self-awareness,” says Shalini Prasad, Ph.D.
However, the study is not based on saliva samples from direct participants. Cannabis is illegal in Texas, leaving the researchers to use saliva samples spiked with THC. Perhaps the study would be more relevant and reliable if it were tested on actual people who used marijuana.
Alameda County Marijuana DUI Defense Attorney
The research is not clear how much marijuana may increase the risk of an accident. Additionally, testing has been unreliable using existing blood and urine testing. It remains unclear how much more reliable new roadside breath tests or saliva tests will be at showing a driver is impaired by marijuana.
If you were charged with a marijuana DUI in Alameda County or anywhere in the East Bay, call attorney Lynn Gorelick at 510-785-1444 or 925-847-3006.