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Development of marijuana “Breathalyzer” problematic

For many years, law enforcement agencies across the country have relied on Breathalyzers to measure the blood alcohol content of those suspected of driving under the influence. With some states legalizing or decriminalizing the recreational use of marijuana and more states likely to adopt similar laws in the future, police departments have begun the call for similar breath test technology to determine whether drivers have been using marijuana. Though the development of this sort of technology has presented difficulties in the past, recent studies indicate that it may be possible to create a marijuana “Breathalyzer.”

Researchers at the Baltimore based National Institutes on Drug Abuse, in collaboration with a team in Stockholm, Sweden, recently conducted a study involving 24 people who regularly smoke marijuana. The study subjects each smoked a marijuana cigarette that contained 6.8 percent THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, and then provided breath samples at set times throughout the day. The purpose of the study was to determine whether a breath test could accurately and reliably measure the presence of a THC metabolite in a person’s breath.

The development of a breath test to measure impairment by marijuana is problematic for several reasons. First, unlike alcohol, a given percentage of THC in a person’s bloodstream does not necessarily indicate impairment in every individual. Second, many states have not established a baseline THC percentage by which a person can be considered legally over the limit. Finally, for some individuals, THC does not dissipate in the blood for all users predictably. Indeed, some users, particularly those who smoke marijuana regularly, have measurable THC in their systems days after they last used marijuana.

Given these challenges, the key to developing an effective, fair breath test for marijuana use is finding a way to determine whether someone has used the drug in the time immediately before getting behind the wheel. The NIDA study shows that it is, in fact, possible to measure the presence of THC metabolites in a person’s breath predictably in the hours after a person has smoked marijuana. The significant remaining problem, of course, is establishing a point at which THC levels in a person’s body indicate impairment.

If you have been arrested for driving under the influence, it is important to contact an experienced criminal defense attorney. A criminal defense attorney can explain your legal options and help you to defend your rights. For more information, contact a criminal defense attorney today.

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