Oakland-Based Startup Develops Marijuana ‘Breathalyzer’ to Sell to Police Departments

pot leaf

When the governor of Vermont vetoed a marijuana legalization bill this week, he said he was especially worried about stoned driving. He wants to hear more about an “impairment testing mechanism” to detect it.

The problem is that no such mechanism exists. There is no Breathalyzer for pot.

Urine and hair tests can detect whether a person has used marijuana or other drugs within the last few days or weeks, but they can’t tell when a person is stoned at any one moment.

A couple of startups are racing to change that.

Oakland-based Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies of Vancouver, British Columbia, are developing small handheld devices with tubes that people can blow into, just like the roadside tests that detect drunken drivers.

Hound Labs announced on Tuesday that it has raised $8.1 million from the venture capital company Benchmark, which funded Uber and Tinder, and has started clinical trials in conjunction with the University of California, San Francisco.

The Hound device is designed to detect both marijuana and alcohol in human breath. Dr. Michael Lynn, the CEO, said his company is planning to sell it by the end of the year.

“We tested on so many people now that we’re quite confident,” he told CNNMoney.

He said his company’s device will cost $600 to $800 and will be sold to police departments — and employers, too. In the eight states where recreational pot is legal, companies might not care whether their workers smoked weed the night before, but would definitely care if they are driving trucks or school buses while stoned.

Lynn, an emergency room doctor, said the device uses chemistry to pick up THC molecules in the breath, which are detectable for about two hours.

In Canada, which is moving to legalize recreational marijuana next year, Cannabix Technologies is working on a similar device to detect THC molecules.

Kal Malhi, the company president, hopes to start selling it in about a year and half, for $1,000 to $1,500. Testing began in March.

“We know it works,” said Dr. Bruce Goldberger, a forensic toxicologist and science adviser to the company.

Unlike an alcohol Breathalyzer, which estimates the amount of alcohol in the blood to determine a degree of drunkenness, both pot devices simply give a yes or no on the presence of THC.

Police don’t have a roadside drug testing tool like this. Goldberger said police in other countries sometimes use saliva swabs that can detect drugs, but those haven’t caught on in the United States.

Bob Griffiths, a retired officer and the director of police standards and training for the Alaska Department of Public Safety, said saliva testing technology “has not proven reliable.” This is why it was never adopted in Alaska, where recreational marijuana sales became legal in October.

Griffiths said Alaska police currently conduct field sobriety tests that he described as “fairly rudimentary,” and that the marijuana Breathalyzer “shows promise.” But it still has to be tested by the police, and approved by the courts for use as evidence.

He said the technology is important because it could detect drug impairment in drivers who are not drunk.

“I’ve arrested people who had zero-zero alcohol but they could barely stand up,” he said. “I would say that recreational marijuana, whether legal or not, has always been a problem with impairment with drivers in Alaska.”

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HB161 Florida house of representatives attempt to set the stage for the governance of dui while using marijuana

September 20, 2015

Sheree Krider

On Monday, September 14, FLORIDA State Representative David Kerner, a Democrat, Filed HB161 which attempts to set a standard for measuring (via blood test) Marijuana intoxication. 

It sets the "limit" of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood.

Anyone with a blood test showing THC level that is above 5 nanograms "commits the offense of driving under the influence".

This was done in response to the death of a 16 year old girl,  Naomi Pomerance, who was killed while riding on the back of a scooter and being hit by a car whose driver had been smoking marijuana in March of this year.  According to the reports, Tyler Cohen, was high on marijuana, and ran a red light. 

While that may or may not be true,  it currently remains impossible to determine "intoxication" levels due to consumption of Marijuana.  With the blood tests that are available, it can only be determined that a person may have consumed at any time in the weeks prior to the incident – not that they were incapacitated from Marijuana at the time of  the accident.

In a Todd County Kentucky case this year, a man was charged with Second Degree Manslaughter and 23 counts of First Degree Wanton Endangerment when his truck hit a school bus during a storm and hydroplaned off of the road causing the death of one man and hurting three others seriously, including himself. 

The only drug of abuse which showed up in his blood test was Marijuana at the time of the accident.  Additionally there was no other evidence to confirm his use of Marijuana that day.  After acquiring an "expert witness" to review the blood test being offered as evidence in the case against him, the witness, a Professor of Clinical Pharmacology,  concluded that it did not indicate intoxication at the time of the accident.  Therefore, the Court was not able to use this "blood test"as evidence against him in this case.

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It would seem to me that any Representative or Senator who would file such a "BILL" should be intelligent enough to have the "science" of the issue verified before submitting another piece of legislation to be signed into law In order to allow prosecutions.

It remains to be seen if this Bill will die in the House.  If by some chance it would be signed into law, I believe we will see many Court battles fighting the legality of the law. 

You cannot make something "truthful" just by saying it is or even writing that it is.  The science behind the fact must be proven before it can set a valid and legal precedence.  In this case, I have not seen any "proof" that a blood test can accurately predict intoxication by Marijuana.  Therefore, if they use this law to prosecute people who have more than 5 nanograms of THC in their blood for DUI they are effectively prosecuting anyone who has smoked Marijuana at any time in the prior weeks leading up to the incident. 

This could turn out to be the way that they will continue to fill the prison industrial complex, yet again, with people who do not deserve to be there. 

The drug war will never end.  It will just change its’ angles of prosecution.

(If we can’t get to them one way, we will get to them another)

 

Assessing Marijuana Intoxication

by Matthew C. Lee, MD, RPh, MS

Marijuana is composed of a number of different cannabinoids, some are psychoactive, while some are not. When marijuana is absorbed through inhalation of smoke, or ingested when mixed with food, a psychoactive component, Δ-9 THC is taken up by the fat cells and stored. Where over time it is slowly released back into the bloodstream and subsequently excreted in the urine. This is why marijuana can be detected days to weeks after consumption. Additionally this is also the reason withdrawal from marijuana is so rare. The slow release of the Δ-9 THC stored in the fat cells leads to a prolonged taper of excretion from the body.

 

FLORIDA HOUSE BILL 161,

INTRODUCED BY DAVID KERN

…providing that a person with a specified amount of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol per 5 milliliter of blood commits the offense of driving under the influence or boating under the influence,

Subsection (1) of section 316.193, Florida Statutes, is amended to read:

…The person has a blood level of 5 nanograms or more of delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol per milliliter of blood, as shown by analysis of the person’s blood…

…This act may be cited as the "Naomi Pomerance Victim Safety Act."

This act shall take effect October 1, 2016

http://www.wtsp.com/story/news/2015/09/20/florida-bill-would-set-marijuana-standard-fatal-crashes/72514946/

http://www.constitutionalcannabis.com/toxicology–ui.html

http://archive.wtsp.com/assetpool/documents/150920080505_hb161.pdf

http://expertpages.com/news/Assessing_Marijuana_Intoxication.htm