The effects of alcohol on a driver are well documented, with motor skills and often decision-making skills decreasing with each drink, subsequently increasing the likelihood of a fatal accident. A field sobriety test (i.e. walking heel-to-toe, follow a pen with eyes, stand on one foot) typically does an ample job at helping police officers identify a driver under the influence of alcohol, which is then typically followed by the tried-and-true alcohol breathalyzer test to pinpoint blood alcohol concentration (BAC).   Although some laws and penalties vary from state to state, there is a nationwide standard of drunk driving being defined as BAC at or above 0.08 percent. Technological advancements have made alcohol breathalyzers affordably available to businesses and consumers, like Akers Biosciences’ (NASDAQ: AKER) CHUBE and BreathScan products, to estimate BAC. Another portable BAC estimator, Breathometer’s eponymous device that operates by attaching it to the audio output of a smart phone, garnered an aggregate $1 million in investments from all five “sharks” in April on the popular CNBC show “Shark Tank,” lending to the idea that it is a growing industry against the backdrop of stiffening laws and greater awareness. Breathometer isn’t alone in the smart phone breathalyzer space, orders are being taken for FLOOME, a universal smartphone accessory for measuring BAC developed with the help of Proto Labs (NYSE:PRLB).

In May, the National Transportation Safety Bureau recommended to lower the legal BAC to .05 from .08. A tighter reign on impaired driving is likely to spill over into marijuana legislation with the legalization of the drug in recent years across 23 U.S. states, but not without its challenges.

As compared to alcohol, the effects of marijuana on individuals are much more cloudy and confounded by a mishmash of data delivering different results as to what degree pot affects driving skills. Research is still limited by traditional standards, but clinical studies and anecdotal data point to variances in direct response to motor and cognitive skills based upon tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana) levels in the blood, which is the proxy for intoxication. As noted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.” Arguing against current standards, pot law critic William Breathes used himself as an example of how blood tests for THC can detect the marijuana constituent long after the effects of marijuana have worn off. Be that as it may – and only more research will flesh out the situation – driving under the “excessive” influence of marijuana is still illegal in every state (regardless if marijuana is legalized in some fashion or another), with the standard testing currently being blood tests to identify THC in the blood. Whether there is controversy or not, laws are in place, such as Colorado law stating that in instances where THC is identified in a driver’s blood in quantities of 5 nanograms per milliliter or higher, “such fact gives rise to permissible inference that the defendant was under the influence.”

According to research published on ClinicalChemistry.org, “Breath may offer an alternative matrix for testing for recent driving under the influence of cannabis, but is limited to a short detection window (0.5–2 h).” The shorter time frame for THC detection as a measure of intoxication could be advantageous when these devices make it to market as compared to blood samples. Importantly, the point-of-use quality of a marijuana breathalyzer creates an easier scenario for roadside testing of drivers by law enforcement, gives employers an option for testing employees to ensure workplace safety and opens the door to vertical growth into the consumer markets, riding the coattails of alcohol breathalyzers.

A first mover in tackling the development of the world’s first marijuana breathalyzer is British Columbia-based Cannabix Technologies Inc (OTC: BLOZF) (CSE:BLO). Since June 2014, Cannabix has signed a definitive agreement to license the North American rights to the patent-pending Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer; completed an equity private placement, added key executives; selected engineering firm KLN Klein to help complete the first version of its device. Cannabix has been steadily developing a prototype and more recently on November 12 made public renderings and a video presentation of its Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer.

The media release for online viewing came just ahead of Cannabix showcasing the renderings and video at the National Marijuana Business Conference and Expo in Las Vegas, held November 12-14. Cannabix said in a recent statement that software development is well underway with drivers for the various sub-systems already executing and that hardware circuits and printed circuit board designs are now complete for the device.

Politicians are going to have to rely on what scientific data we have to date until more becomes available in order to create some nationwide cohesion for legislation on marijuana intoxication. Until then, opponents will rattle their sabers against current standards, but the fact is, like it or not, that the law is the law and based upon the best available information to create uniform policy.   New data and technologies will continue to emerge to improve the system and it looks like marijuana breathalyzers are nearest on the horizon, aligning to play an integral part of detection of THC in many environments.

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