Most drivers are familiar with breathalyzer tests, which quickly and accurately determine how much alcohol someone has consumed. Originally developed in the 1930s, the device determines how much ethanol is in the breath by measuring the electrical current between an anode and cathode. Law enforcement agencies around the world now use the device as both a preliminary screening and evidentiary tool to prosecute drunk drivers.
With the legalization of medical and adult-use marijuana in the U.S. and Canada, there is a growing demand for a device capable of testing for drivers that are impaired by marijuana, more specifically “THC”. Law enforcement agencies have few tools at their disposal for detecting “high” drivers, with many agencies resorting to specialized police officer training programs. In many cases, a suspect that’s taken in for such an offense must undergo lengthy testing from a “DRE” (more on this below) then undergo blood tests to confirm.
In this article, we’ll take a look at the problems with the existing marijuana detection techniques and explore how one company is developing an innovative solution.
What’s the Legal Limit?
The legal limits for driving under the influence (“DUI”) for alcohol are well established throughout the country and around the world. If a driver tests above the legal limit, they are charged with a DUI and face penalties that vary by state and country. The legal limits for marijuana consumption – specifically THC, the psychoactive component of marijuana – are a lot less certain given the recency of legalization in many jurisdictions.
In Colorado and Washington State, where adult-use marijuana has been legalized for over a year, the legal limit for THC has been established at five or more nanograms per milliliter. Critics say that the level is unfair for marijuana users, since the drug metabolizes slowly and stays in the blood for a long time, while others argue that the blood or urine tests necessary to accurately measure THC are overly invasive to those who may not even be guilty.
There is also a lot of disagreement on what constitutes impairment when driving. While there’s little doubt that driving “high” is dangerous, as evidenced by numerous vehicular studies, the five nanogram per milliliter limit appears more of an arbitrary pick rather than a number rooted in science, according to advocacy organizations like NORML. Furthermore, organizations like the Institute for Behavior and Health (IBH) argue that the 5 ng/ml per se limit provides the appearance of protecting the public, but in reality it only protects marijuana users driving under the influence of marijuana from prosecution. Nearly all marijuana users test below 5 ng/ml of active THC in blood only a few hours after their last use. Because of the unavoidably long delay between arrest and blood collection, it is certain that THC concentrations were higher when these drivers were stopped for suspicion of drugged driving because of rapidly declining THC levels after marijuana use stops. Regulators across various states and countries will likely have to continue working to find the right legal limits over time as the debate has just started.
Drug Recognition & Testing
The single largest barrier in prosecuting those driving under the influence of marijuana is the testing process. Since the drug’s legalization is so recent, the process of determining if someone is likely “high” and quantitatively testing the “high” is inefficient, invasive, and even costly for many law enforcement agencies. The good news is that at least one company is getting close to completing development of an innovative solution to the problem.
Currently, U.S. law enforcement officials undergo a training program to become a Drug Recognition Expert (“DRE”). These DREs detect behavioral patterns and use roadside tests to determine if someone is likely “high” before subjecting them to definitive blood or urine test. In Canada, the government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars sending law enforcement officials to the U.S. to become trained as DREs and have only arrested a handful of people.
In 2012, just 1,126 drug impairment charges were made against Canadian drivers compared to 60,000 charges for alcohol impaired drivers. These numbers are partly due to the fact that there are just 570 active-duty DREs in the country. The cost of training police officers to become DREs can be between $5,800 and $17,000 each in recent years, while the true effectiveness of the techniques leaves a lot of room for improvement.
A Marijuana Breathalyzer
Cannabix Technologies Inc. (OTC: BLOZF) (CSE: BLO) is a company developing a hand-held marijuana breathalyzer for law enforcement that will look to provide instantaneous results at road-side as to whether there is THC in a person’s system by way of breath testing. While the device remains in development, the company has been actively securing patents on the concepts and is working with a engineering firm to create the first prototypes, which could be used to test the efficacy and usability of the device.
The underlying research for breath testing for THC was originated at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. In a 2010 paper published in the Journal of Analytical Toxicology, scientists described a method for determining the level of THC exhaled in breath. Cannabix has worked with this research to develop a device that can stand up to the rigors of police use in the field. It has done so by leveraging an experienced team of medical and business professionals.
Finally, the company’s management team is well-qualified to execute on its vision and bring the product to market. President Kal Malhi worked as a Canadian Mountie for a decade, spending several years in the drug investigation team. In 2011, he left the force to focus his efforts in the business world and partnered with Dr. Raj Attariwala, who has a doctorate in biomedical engineering and works as a radiologist and nuclear medicine physician.
There are many different opportunities for investors interested in the marijuana space, ranging from growing operations like Tweed Marijuana Inc. (OTC: TWMJF) (TSX-V: TWD) to vaporizer manufacturers like Vape Holdings Inc. (OTC: VAPE). With its modest market capitalization, ongoing development of its breathalyzer prototype, and experienced management team at the helm, investors may want to take a closer look at Cannabix Technologies.
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