Toking & driving on the rise in California, new breathalyzers expected
SAN FRANCISCO (Tom Vacar/KTVU) - With California marijuana use likely to pick up after the new year, when cannabis will be legal for recreational use, police are expecting a lot more DUIs.
Though 60 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal, few say you should be allowed to toke and drive. That's why many back cannabis breathalyzers.
The San Francisco Police Department says that one in every four drivers they pull over is stoned even before legalization. The California Office of Traffic Safety says that drug-impaired drivers in fatal accidents have skyrocketed.
"When drivers in fatal crashes have been tested for impaired driving, other than alcohol in their system, back in 2006, it was little over 26%. In 2015, it was over 43%," said Rhonda Kraft, Director of the California Office of Traffic Safety.
More and more folks are mixing and matching and driving. "It's not just alcohol alone, there's also a combination with any other type of drug itself whether it's a prescription drug or cannabis. There is starting to be an increase in drugs out there and driving," said Sgt. Oscar Chavez, a California Highway Patrol Drug Recognition Evaluator.
Currently police use traditional field sobriety tests to verify intoxication. For police, the problem, in court, is making sure the person is truly impaired as opposed to simply having THC in their blood at a legal level. THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, can be in your blood stream for hours or days, but that does not mean you're stoned. But, THC, must be measured in the breath is in parts per trillion, which means detectors must be incredibly accurate.
That's why several marijuana breathalyzers are coming out on the law enforcement market to find impairment right on the spot. Here's one ad: "The Cannabix marijuana breathalyzer is a cutting edge, non-invasive drug impairment recognition system. It uses breath testing technology to test individuals for recent consumption of THC." This is also science based high technology. "Our system will provide scientific evidence to support an officer's opinion that results in likelihood of a conviction," said Kal Malhi, Cannibix Technologies President.
Oakland physician Mike Lynn founded Hound Labs, a company that has developed and instantaneous THC breathalyzer. Dr. Lynn says, the stoned level is normally in a person for a couple of hours right after using. And, says Dr. Lynn, if it's not detectable in your breath, odds are you are not impaired to drive.
"Everybody is getting behind this notion of a marijuana breathalyzer that can truly differentiated that person who probably stoned right now, versus the person who may just have it in their system," said Dr. Lynn.
While many police agencies have yet to acquire breathalyzers and until they have, traditional screening can and will catch many cannabis impaired drivers.