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How do police test drivers for marijuana intoxication?

On Behalf of | Aug 7, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

Since legalizing marijuana, Michigan has joined other legal states in adopting new technology that can test the breath of motorists suspected of driving under the influence of cannabis. The latest technology uses a similar method used in drunk driving tests.

These new tests are much quicker than the previous blood testing officers use, although some officers say it isn’t likely to have as big of an impact as they’d hoped, and Michigan State Police are even questioning the technology’s accuracy.

How much is too much THC?

Breath testing is said to have a high accuracy rate, but there is skepticism about this. Blood tests are still the best determiners for detecting marijuana in the blood, but the new marijuana breathalyzer technology, which can measure cannabinoid levels, may influence how police officers determine driver impairment during traffic stops.

It is currently illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana at all, since no legal limit has been established, unlike with alcohol’s 0.8% limit. With the legalization of the substance, the new technology may help establish detectable limits like those set for alcohol.

It is unclear how long it will take to change the current laws using data from the field. The alcohol breath tests took several decades to develop, and cannabis testing is fairly new, so legislation could still be a long way off.

Nanotechnology vs. human observation

Prior to the breath testing, officers were trained to detect signs that a person is driving while under the influence of marijuana, since blood testing did not yield fast results. The new breath tests more quickly detect tetrahydrocannabinol using nanotechnology. The sensors on a device can detect THC levels on molecules 100,000 times smaller than the average hair of a human.

The legal community continues to battle what THC levels cause impairment in the driver and warrant an arrest for driving under the influence. There are also questions about the validity of any field test without a standard having been established.

As for now, if you’re stopped and asked to take a marijuana breathalyzer, speak to an attorney right away to make sure your rights are protected.