Here’s why weed breathalyzers will never become a public safety measure

The federal government in Ottawa is yet to determine which way the police will be testing for cannabis sobriety. Will we see a rise in the “weed breathalyzer” technology or will mouth swab tests prevail?

There is a lot of noise surrounding the question of how those driving high on cannabis should be tested when caught.

The current technology does not provide suitable measures that can confirm without a shadow of a doubt that the driver in question is high at the moment of the testing.

Currently, there are two schools of testing — one that supports the breathalyzers which are testing for the vapor levels such as the ones that test for alcohol, and the other the one in which drivers opt-into a mouth swab which tests for the existence of cannabinoids in the driver’s saliva.

Seeing how the Bill C-45 is supposed to roll out this summer, the government in Ottawa is short on time to test all available options.

Not everyone is on the same page

When it comes down to British Columbia, Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth says that the provincial government has not yet been informed regarding which devices will be used to test for cannabis.

He also mentioned that the federal government hasn’t informed provinces what devices will be used as breathalyzer equivalents during roadside stops.

“It’s something we believe needs to be communicated to the provinces, like, ASAP,” Farnworth said. “The feds have told us there is technology they are confident in, but we are yet to know exactly what it is.”

Aside from standardized field sobriety tests, police officers will also have to rely on some piece of technology to confirm their doubts regarding the driver in question.

Criminal defense lawyer Sarah Leamon says testing for cannabis-impaired driving is much different than testing for alcohol.

Also, not everyone has the same way of metabolizing cannabinoids, which could prove to be a significant factor in testing.

“A person could end up having a lot of THC in their system if they’re a regular user,” Leamon said. “But that doesn’t actually measure their level of impairment.”

Science and tech don’t lie

The science and technology behind getting a foolproof positive result that would stand strong in a court of law is simply not there yet.

For starters, scientists that were creating previous versions of cannabis breathalyzers didn’t focus on the right cannabinoid when looking for a positive result.

Sarah Urfer, owner of a Boulder-based lab that handles DUI screening in Colorado says scientists never looked for the right cannabinoid in results to start with.

“Nobody thought it mattered what you were looking for. … Early on, scientists didn’t know for sure which of the cannabinoids were responsible for impairment. They’d measure carboxy and try to correlate it to impairment.”

The cannabinoid most widely tested for in the past, known as carboxy THC, is an inactive metabolite that exclusively indicates prior marijuana use, sometimes even up to 30 days ago.

Not only that, but testing for cannabis and alcohol in the breath of a driver is not even remotely comparable.

BAC is measured in nanograms, meaning that it registers billions of particles.

Alcohol breathalyzers are way more accurate than cannabis breathalyzers because the vapor pressure in alcohol is much higher than that in cannabis.

Vapor pressure in cannabis is about 1000 times smaller than in alcohol, which makes it barely impossible to test for and find positive results with complete certainty.

This means that in order to test for cannabis in a drivers breath we would need a tool that can do something today’s technology is not able to do yet.

What the government should do

Seeing how there are still no decisions made yet, I would like to make my own suggestion for an addition to the field sobriety test.

This addition would request little to no staff training, and would most definitely save money that would be spent for the breathalyzers and similar pieces of tech.

So, this process would have 4 steps and so far has had an astonishing 82% success rate.

Hear me out:

Step 1: Check for red eyes. Keep in mind, the driver might have cried in the past as the Raptors are about to lose a series to the Cavs again.

Step 2: Series of high questions. “If I took you to McDonald’s right now, what would you eat? What is your favorite ice cream topping? Do you ever get nervous? Are you high right now?”

Step 3: If the driver answers with “Wait…What? What are you on about?” then the driver is not high and you can proceed with testing the next one. Any other answer is an automatic positive.

In all seriousness, Ottawa should really decide what will be the standardized way of determining whether a driver is high or not and properly communicate that information to the provinces as soon as possible.

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