Breathalyzer tests during traffic stops are often used by law enforcement when they suspect a driver is drunk. As of September 2019, the first marijuana breathalyzers were introduced using carbon nanotubes to test the tetrahydrocannabinol (THC molecules) level in breath samples, but questions remain on the validity of the tests.
It took decades for alcohol breathalyzers to become accurate and reliable even though defense attorneys consistently argue that these tests still have a high margin of error, and it appears that breath testing for weed impairment will need its own trial period to address a unique set of concerns. One reason for this is because marijuana stays in a person’s system longer than alcohol does, so it’s not as simple as measuring if or how much marijuana is present. THC, the component in the drug that causes a “high” and leads to impairment, can stay in a person’s body for up to a month, long after any high wears off. Moreover, many people agree that the amount of alcohol in a person’s blood directly correlates with how drunk a person is, but the same isn’t necessarily true with marijuana. A person could have a higher THC level based on body type alone, as THC is stored in fat cells. While 0.08 has been determined as the legal limit for blood-alcohol concentration (BAC), it’s not as simple to draw a hard-and-fast line with pot. Even though a few states have enacted laws that attempt to put a limit on how much THC causes impairment, no consensus has been reached on what level is unsafe for driving.
These issues make it difficult to evaluate when a driver is actually impaired by the drug, especially in the growing number of states where there is marijuana legalization, but you cannot drive while stoned.
In an effort to solve the problem of measuring THC impairment, scientists have created a breath test that focuses on when a person smoked marijuana, which they say research shows is more important than whether or how much THC is in a person’s system. Without a breath test, law enforcement is left with other, more subjective and less accurate methods to determine if a driver is high such as field sobriety tests and observations; drug recognition experts; saliva swab tests and/or blood tests.
As you can see, a more reliable and objective standard for drug testing and evaluating THC impairment was badly needed, especially with medical marijuana and recreational use becoming legal in a growing number of states.
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