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Are pot breathalyzers accurate?

On Behalf of | Oct 18, 2019 | Field Sobriety Tests |

The introduction and initial applications of the breathalyzer brought controversy and confusion. Dating back to the 1930s, the device in its early stages left more questions than answers over its accuracy and the appropriate legal limits that would reveal a driver’s intoxication. 

Previously a police officer’s first-hand testimony would carry weight to determine the commission of a crime. Trusting a device over a seasoned law enforcement professional seemed unlikely. In spite of technological advances, the modern-day breathalyzer remains controversial. The results can mean the difference between guilt and innocence. 

The Search For Legal THC Limits

The state-by-state legalization of marijuana — currently numbering 33 and the District of Columbia — has spurred efforts to deal with the inevitable crimes associated with its use, particularly for those who drive after using the drug. 

In response, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have created a prototype breathalyzer device that can supposedly determine THC levels in a driver. Like the early days of its alcohol testing predecessor, verifying the effectiveness and accuracy could take years, if not decades. 

Proving intoxication by alcohol requires measuring the amount in a person’s blood, resulting in a “blood to breath” or “partition” ration with relative accuracy. Some claim a correlation is lacking when it comes to determining the amount of THC in a suspect’s breath, not to mention the level of the driver’s impairment. 

Numerous Challenges Ahead

Establishing the benchmark for impairment caused by marijuana remains unknown. History shows that decades went by before the court system could hash out a nationally accepted blood alcohol concentration (BAC) limit, currently at .08. Regardless of the percentage and the length of time it has been in existence, scientists remain divided. 

Even today, they cannot agree on the legal drunk-driving limit with many believing that the number is arbitrary and lacks any form of “hard science.” 

If history is any indication, standard THC testing has a long way to go beyond a police officer’s visual and olfactory testing to determine criminal activity.