How Will The Marijuana Breathalyzer Change Things in Australia?

Existing procedures, in circumstances where officers believe they are dealing with a driver operating a vehicle under the effects of cannabis (or another drug) require that the suspect driver provide a blood or urine sample.

Australian laws around ‘drug driving’

Despite prohibition, cannabis use is widespread, leading to concerns about drug driving

Australia, like many countries, needs a cannabis breathalyser.

Australia has one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the world. In the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 3.1m Australians (of a population of around 25m) used drugs in the year, recreationally with cannabis being the most common drug taken. These are somewhat surprising statistics, considering the fact that recreational use of marijuana is illegal in the Australian subcontinent. According to Wikipedia, one third of the country’s population above the age of 22 has tried marijuana at least once. There are 750,000 people who use it on a weekly basis and more than 300,000 who consume it every day.

In the US, 30 states have laws allowing cannabis for medical use and 9 have laws facilitating the legal sale of cannabis for recreational purposes. Each of these territories needs to address the dangers associated with people driving under the influence of marijuana. 

 

FACT

Australia has one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the world. In the 2016 National Drug Strategy Household Survey, 3.1m Australians (of a population of around 25m) used drugs in the year.



Current Australian laws around ‘drug driving’

A large number of people in Australia have voiced their opinions regarding the ambiguous and unfair driving laws over the years. Currently, police in Australia can perform a roadside stop of any vehicle at any time, for any reason. These random driver stops are performed in each state on an almost daily basis. Existing procedures, in circumstances under which officers believe they are dealing with a driver operating a vehicle under the effects of cannabis or another drug demands blood or urine samples. These are then used to determine whether a driver has smoked cannabis. 

 

SCIENCE

A California based company, ‘Hound Labs’ has developed a new marijuana breathalyzer that can help the police officials determine if the driver is ‘high’. 

 

If the samples contain traces of marijuana, the drivers are charged. They may receive a fine and sometimes even find themselves imprisoned. 

The primary problem with this approach is that traces of cannabis can be found in the blood samples for up to 40 days. What that essentially boils down to is that even a person who might have smoked pot a week before driving can be charged with the same infringement as someone who consumed it merely hours ago. 

However, things might be about to change. A California based company, ‘Hound Labs’ has developed a new marijuana breathalyzer that can help the police officials determine if the driver is ‘high’. The breathalyzer is extremely sensitive, it’s capable of picking up the THC levels in the driver’s blood in much the same way that a drink driving breathalyser does today. THC is the psychoactive ingredient that contributes to the ‘high’.



Recommendations on appropriate THC thresholds

Interestingly, the company in its research found that the THC levels and therefore driver impairment were at their peak within one or two hours of smoking pot. By the third hour, these levels drop to zero. 

The recommendation from the manufacturer then is that those two hours are the only time when marijuana temporarily impairs the driver’s ability to operate a vehicle.



When will the Hound Labs Marijuana Breathalyzer be available?

Hound has already developed the product and is currently testing it on as large a population as possible to ensure the accuracy of their hardware and guidelines. 

The company CEO Dr. Michael Flynn, believes the commercial breathalyser product will be available by fall (September ‘18) in the US. 

Devices  will initially be sold it to Police Departments and businesses/employers. If the initial release is well received, you can expect the product to make its global debut sometime soon after that. 

According to the company, the device will be priced between $500 and $800 which makes it pretty compelling, considering the fact that there is no other product offering similar functionality at the moment.

The device will also serve as an alcohol Breathalyzer, simultaneously, which might make it the preferred choice over its (upcoming) competitors.



How will the Marijuana Breathalyzer impact Australia?

Current Australian law about driving impaired differs by state.  For instance, in South Australia, drivers found to be guilty of driving under the influence of drugs can be fined $1100 or imprisoned for up to three months if the case of a first offense. However, a second, similar offense, can see the fine rise to upwards of $1900 - and drivers could be looking at six months in prison.

Drivers could also get their driving licenses cancelled for up to twelve months on the first offense and three years for the second. 

Bear in mind that all these figures are irrespective of the amount of marijuana found in the blood stream. These are some pretty serious charges and getting a driving license cancelled can also contribute to losing a job in some cases. 

Therefore, the Marijuana Breathalyzers can be a boon for both the authorities as well as the people of Australia. Once the authorities are able to control the use of marijuana in drivers, using this new tool, they might even consider legalizing it for recreational purposes.