A private company has announced that it has come up with a way to detect THC, the active and hallucinogenic component in marijuana, on someone's breath. The development could be a game-changer for charges of driving while intoxicated (DWI) that involve marijuana in Houston and beyond. However, if handled poorly, it could also make an already difficult field of law even more challenging and unfair.
Company Claims to Have Developed a “Marijuana Breathalyzer”
The company is Hound Labs. It has claimed to have developed a portable device that tests a DWI suspect's breath for both alcohol and marijuana.
According to its website, the mobile testing device it has created can detect minute amounts of THC on a DWI suspect's breath – all the way down to 1 picogram of THC or a trillionth of a gram. Doing so would provide law enforcement with an “objective” way of determining whether someone is under the influence of marijuana or not.
Development Could be a Game-Changer
While there are already numerous breathalyzer devices that can test someone's blood alcohol content (BAC), the same cannot be said for portable testing machines that can handle marijuana. Simply put, THC stays in the blood and urine for long periods of time, making those tests meaningless for DWI suspects – a positive result would just mean that marijuana had been smoked in the past several days, not that a suspect was under the influence of marijuana at that point in time.
On the breath, though, THC disappears within a couple of hours – largely dissipating as soon as THC's hallucinogenic effects wear off. Developing a device that could measure breath THC during this time period has been a longtime goal of law enforcement.
Lack of Solid Test Has Held DWI Law Back
Without a solid test, police have been given great discretion to determine if someone is “under the influence” of marijuana – discretion that frequently leads to the arrest of innocent people.
In fact, the logistical problems associated with measuring THC levels have even hampered by the creation of drugged driving laws in most states. While alcohol-impaired drivers are presumed to be under the influence with a BAC over 0.08%, there is no legal limit for THC for drugged driving law, leaving law enforcement to make the determination on a subjective basis.
Potential Pitfalls Could Make Things Worse in Harris County Drugged Driving Arrests
While it would be great to have a device that could put an accurate number on someone's THC content, the law has yet to draw the line between how much THC is permissible and how much is intoxicating. Should this device be all that its makers say it is, where to draw that line becomes the next question.
Worse, though, is the fact that it is another private company behind the device. These private companies have only one audience in mind when they make and market their wares – law enforcement. They have a financial incentive to cater to law enforcement's desire to arrest and prosecute as many people as possible, and this puts potential DWI suspects in Houston and innocent members of the public at risk.