Whether you are for or against the legalization of marijuana—and I am not taking a position here— no one can dispute that driving a car after the use of marijuana is dangerous.
According to a recent study, fatal car crashes involving marijuana impairment have tripled in the United States.
All across the State of Washington pot shops provided various marijuana products legally, making the use of pot easy and common. I often walk down the street in Seattle and smell the aroma of pot— or see folks smoking in their cars.
I have seen the aftermath of too many crashes to not be alarmed by a cloud of pot smoke around a car.
How do you identify a stoned driver?
A major problem for law enforcement is that there are few accurate roadside tools to detect marijuana impairment.
Field sobriety tests are common, or simple observation techniques, have been developed to fight drunk driving. The problem is that these tests are not reliable for detecting other forms of impairment. And they are easily challenged in court.
In Washington State, a driver can be charged with Driving Under the Influence if they are found with a THC level of 5 nanograms per ml of blood. However, there remains a dispute as to how scientifically appropriate the limits are, as THC remains in the bloodstream long after it’s ingested.
Other currently available tests, using saliva or urine can take days for a result, long after law enforcement needs to remove someone from behind the wheel of a car.
A Breathalyzer for marijuana impairment?
Recently, a California company claims it has developed a “pot breathalyzer”. This tool has not been perfected, but its development is a step in the right direction.
Hound Labs says their device can accurately detect whether a person has smoked marijuana in the last two hours. It detects the presence of THC in the subject’s breath.
Theoretically, it could give law enforcement information about marijuana impairment in just a few minutes, instead of hours or days.
The marijuana breathalyzer isn’t perfect.
It can’t calculate the amount of THC consumed. And it seems to be dependent on the driver having smoked marijuana, although there are several other methods of ingestion.
I don’t know if this new device will become the standard test for stoned driving.
What I do know is that a stoned driver behind the wheel of a car is a danger to all of us.
What we need are clear guidelines, and methods to establish whether the guidelines have been broken.
We need drivers to fear being caught and to know that they can’t simply defeat testing with a good criminal lawyer. If drivers know that there are true consequences to being caught, it will reduce the number of people who are willing to drive stoned on our public roads.
It is past time to create and perfect a reliable device that can help keep stoned drivers off the road.