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Marijuana breathalyzers are coming, but what constitutes a pot DUI?

by Oscar Pascual |

Canadian technology company Cannabix announced Tuesday the near-completion of a THC breathalyzer prototype unit designed specifically for law enforcement to accurately detect if a driver recently consumed marijuana.

Marijuana DUI laws, however, are incomplete throughout America, and especially in states with legal or decriminalized laws.

Fourteen states have zero-tolerance policies for drivers with any cannabis byproducts found in their system, regardless if they are perfectly sober when pulled over. Under Arizona’s “per se” laws, for example, cannabis users can technically be DUI even if it’s been over one month since they last consumed THC.

States with legal or medical laws have higher “per se” limits, meaning the blood content level at which point drivers are considered intoxicated regardless if they don’t feel or act high. Washington state and Colorado both have similar laws setting the “per se” limit at 5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter of blood.

California’s laws get even murkier as there is no “per se” limit for THC levels, but drivers can be issued a DUI if a police officer determines that they lack the “ability to drive with the caution characteristic of a sober person of ordinary prudence under the same or similar circumstances,” and test positive for THC in their blood.

The inherent problem with any sort of THC limit is that the compound can still be detected in blood several days after it’s been consumed, leading to what some cannabis activists derisively called “sober DUIs.”

A blood alcohol content of .10 takes around 7 hours to dissipate from the body, whereas THC can be detected in blood and urine three to four days after a single instance of using marijuana, and that’s only if the use is infrequent.

Denver pot critic William Breathes submitted to a blood test after a night of sleep and not smoking for 15 hours straight, and still tested at a whopping 13.5 nanograms of active THC per milliliter — nearly three times over Colorado’s legal limit.

Enter Cannabix, whose THC breathalyzer could possibly provide far more accurate results than testing blood or urine for determining recent consumption.

A study published in the journal Clinical Chemistry suggests that breath testing is a better method of detecting recent marijuana use since it can determine THC levels without detecting carboxy-THC, a molecule that gets stored in the body’s fat cells and can trigger a positive blood test weeks after smoking pot.

While the thought of police carrying pot breathalyzers might sound like a frightening idea, it could actually be a more accurate alternative. And if the prototype proves itself to be effective, then it might just clear up all the legal cloudiness behind “stoned driving” and marijuana DUIs.