Federal Schedule I regulations on medical marijuana (MMJ) and recreational use are changing with each passing day as states continue to hammer out their own policy frameworks, spurred on by sizeable additions to state coffers as a result of tax revenues. Pew Research Center survey data from earlier this year also shows that for the first time since 1969, when only 12% of Americans favored legalization, more than half (54%) the country is now i n favor of making marijuana legal. With 23 states and D.C. now having either some form of MMJ legislation, or open recreational use on the books (as in Colorado and Washington), cash-strapped state budget makers are likely looking closely at data points like the Denver Business Journal’s analysis of Colorado’s recreational market, which forecasts around $70M in tax revenues this fiscal year. In Oregon, where a ballot vote for legalization is set to take place in November, the state’s Legislative Revenue Office estimates 2017 tax revenues at around $16M as a result. Recent in-depth analysis by NerdWallet even put the upper limit for Oregon around $100M per annum, and with a nationwide projection of as much as $3.1B, it seems clear that the tax revenue factor could lead to more easing from the feds. On November 4th, Washington D.C. voters looked to join Colorado and Washington State in legalizing adult-use marijuana after backing Initiative 71 at the voting booths. With voters backing the bill 7-to-3, the initiative will permit anyone over the age of 21 to legally possess as much as two ounces of marijuana and to grow up to three marijuana plants at home.
MMJ use in particular is growing rapidly and along with it, the potential for impaired driving. As the benefits for chronic pain sufferers documented by a growing body of research become more apparent, particularly when cannabinoids are contrasted with typical analgesics like opiates and NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), consumer use will likely only increase even more. A wide range of players have already set up shop in this niche, like phytocannabinoid-based pharmaceutical developer Cannabis Science, Inc. (OTC: CBIS), which is working on a lineup of products for critical illnesses. Or one of the biggest sector success stories, GW Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ: GWPH), whose Sativex® product has hit the scene and become a real head-turner in Multiple Sclerosis and chronic pain treatment.
Intoxication Testing Methodology Conundrum
It is difficult to resolve the mounting concerns states face with users driving under the influence of marijuana using existing testing methods; irrespective of whether they already have or are looking to implement MMJ/recreational legislation. Eighteen states currently have per se (“in and of itself”) laws where a legal limit for THC (the psychoactive component in marijuana) or its metabolites is set and enforced via suspected DUI stops, with criminal charges possible if subsequent testing (typically blood) indicates the individual is over the legal limit. Twelve states have zero-tolerance per se laws where any amount is a violation.
Such practices are coming under increasing scrutiny due to the difficulty of establishing a causal relationship between THC concentration in blood plasma and performance impairment, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s own data. This problem correlating THC (or its metabolites) concentrations in bodily fluids with impairment at the time of the stop produces two very distinct complications. On the one hand you have improper convictions of unimpaired drivers tested under DUI suspicion, despite a lack of clear correlation between the presence of THC in a blood test (which can linger for days or even weeks, especially in chronic users) and the subject being impaired at the time of the traffic stop. On the other hand, observation-based opinions of officers do not hold up very well in court, leading to a high conviction failure rate. Existing forms of testing like blood, urine and saliva are also invasive.
Exhaled Breath Test Vector
The recent identification of exhaled breath as a means for detecting drug abuse (in contrast to bodily fluids), which could be implemented in a fashion similar to well-established alcohol breathalyzer testing, has paved the way for the emergence of a marijuana breathalyzer that could test for consumption of THC. This news should come as a relief to the 1.4M Californians who have used medical marijuana according to a new study from the Public Health Institute in Oakland, as well as to many more such users throughout North America.
The presence of a marijuana breathalyzer in the market that could test for THC in a person’s system in a minimally invasive way would likely also help law enforcement validate secondary blood testing more easily, as a road-side positive would give the officer sufficient justification to proceed. The ability to validate recent use at the time of the traffic stop should also help law enforcement officers secure a higher conviction rate in court. In Arizona, the state Supreme Court ruled this April that authorities cannot prosecute drivers unless they are impaired at the time of the stop. This ruling clearly illustrates the unmet demand for an effective tool like a marijuana breathalyzer. Especially if that same breathalyzer can simultaneously help to ensure that drivers who have legally consumed medical/recreational marijuana long before the stop, and are not driving impaired, do not have to face the possibility of often harsh consequences from a DUI conviction.
The Right Kind Of Testing Helps Everyone
The global breathalyzer market is on track to hit $3.2B by 2018. A device which could do for marijuana testing, what the alcohol breathalyzer has done in law enforcement and workplace testing for alcohol, would likely find a ready market. Cannabix Technologies Inc. (CSE: BLO) (OTC: BLOZF) looks to have first-mover advantage here with a marijuana impairment recognition system geared towards law enforcement. Studies out of Sweden and the U.S. have shown successful testing in clinical research for recent consumption of THC.
The Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer, instead of looking at consumption which may have occurred anywhere from a day to three days prior to testing (as is the case with saliva testing for cannabinoids), should allow law enforcement to see if drivers have consumed THC within two hours prior to getting behind the wheel. The emergence of the current device that can separate the user from the impaired could be a valuable tool to help states establish their protocols. Future developments of the Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer technology will likely look to provide enhanced specificity for testing against state-based per se limits.
As marijuana consumption grows alongside the commercial market throughout North America, a time and scope-limited testing device like the one being developed by Cannabix Technologies stands to keep pace with the sector.
Sign up to follow Cannabix Technologies and view a recent Cannabis Financial Network interview with the company’s president and retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police member Kal Malhi: http://www.cannabisfn.com/mdc/cannabix-technologies-inc/
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