Working in cooperation with a Vancouver-based radiologist, a retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police Officer (RCMP) has invented a patent-pending breathalyzer for catching people who get behind the wheel after smoking marijuana.
Kal Malhi, formerly of the RCMP, and Dr. Raj Attariwala teamed up to create the Cannabix Breathalyzer. Its inventors say that the device can detect whether a person has used marijuana in the past two hours. In the next six months, Malhi and Attariwala hope to secure their patents and arrange to have their device manufactured and put into use around Canada and the rest of North America.
During his 10 years with the RCMP, Malhi spent four years specializing in marijuana enforcement. He was able to see first hand how difficult it can be to convict drivers who were suspected of driving under the influence of drugs. Without the presence of an on-the-scene test for the presence of marijuana or other drugs in the system, law enforcement has to rely on mouth swabs and blood tests. Unfortunately, the delayed nature of these tests makes it very difficult to prove that an individual was actually under the influence while driving.
Field tests struggle to identify stoned drivers
The standard alcohol breathalyzer is not a police officer’s only tool when it comes to identifying drivers under the influence. After pulling over suspected DUIs, police officers often ask drivers to complete one or more field tests in order to test their sobriety. They may have drivers follow the movement of a pen before their eyes, stand on one leg or walk heel to toe and turn without falling.
These field sobriety tests have proven extremely effective when it comes to identifying drivers who have more than the legal limit of alcohol in their systems. However, studies have found that only 30% of drivers under the influence of marijuana will fail a field sobriety test. This makes it even more difficult for police officers to identify stoned drivers and to gather evidence against them for prosecution.
Furthermore, these studies have found that people who are accustomed to using marijuana are often able to pass field sobriety tests while someone who is inexperienced with the drug is more likely to fail. This makes it likely that certain more persistent offenders actually get harder to catch over time.
Legalization may cause confusion
The anti-drunk driving movement has become so prominent and well supported that it is unlikely anyone ever drives under the influence of alcohol without knowing he or she is breaking the law. However, it is possible that the marijuana legalization movement may be sending an unintentionally confused message to some current or prospective marijuana users.
In efforts to legalize recreational use of marijuana across the U.S. and elsewhere, advocates have argued strongly that marijuana is much less dangerous than its current status as a schedule I controlled substance would suggest. In contrast, methamphetamine and cocaine are schedule II controlled substances, suggesting that they are slightly less dangerous and have slightly more medicinal potential than cannabis.
However, it’s possible that those who argue the harmlessness of marijuana have been too successful at convincing some people. Those who see marijuana as a harmless recreational substance may not realize how much it can impair a driver. People in favor of legalization frequently make the alcohol/marijuana comparison, but do those who accept that argument understand that it extends to the dangers of driving?
Will marijuana breathalyzers stop high drivers?
On the other hand, instances of driving while under the influence of marijuana may have less to do with ignorance and more to do with a feeling of being able to get away with it. Malhi and Attariwala hope that their Cannabix breathalyzer will do much more than just help to prosecute people who use marijuana and drive. Ultimately, they hope that knowing police officers have such a tool at their disposal will keep many people from making the decision to do so in the first place and thereby endanger themselves and others.