Marijuana breath test in development

A new portable device to detect the presence of marijuana in drivers’ breaths is under development.

When most people think of impaired driving, they think about drivers that operate their vehicles with a blood alcohol level of .08 percent or above. Although it is true that drunk drivers make up the majority of impaired drivers, it is also illegal in Minnesota to drive while under the influence of drugs or hazardous substances. This can include prescription medications and illegal drugs alike.

One such drug commonly used among accused impaired drivers is marijuana, which can impair drivers' reaction times, judgment and general awareness. Although there are breath tests to determine impairment for drivers under the influence of alcohol, there is currently not one for marijuana. As a result, law enforcement currently has wide discretion in determining impairment based upon their observations and physical evidence. However, this may change soon.

Researchers at Washington State University are developing a device that would test for the presence for marijuana. According to the researchers, it would operate in a similar manner to the portable breath tests that are used today to test the levels of alcohol in a person's body. However, instead of alcohol, the device would detect the presence of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.

Although the device likely would not measure the exact level of THC in the driver's body, it could help law enforcement make better decisions about who to arrest, as it is touted to be able to eliminate the false positives inherent in today's testing process; in many cases, the officer's observations can be misleading, which can lead to a wrongful arrest. However, like drunk driving, the device would require follow up tests, such as a blood test, in order to successfully prosecute offenders.

Drugged driving a major problem

The device's development was prompted by an increasing number of drivers believed to be operating their vehicles while under the influence of drugs. According to a report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the number of drunk drivers has decreased as the number of drugged drivers has increased.

According to the report, the average number of drivers that had drugs in their systems on weekend nights was 16.3 percent in 2007. However, by last year, this number had increased to 20 percent. Marijuana in particular was largely responsible for this increase, as the number of drivers with the drug in their systems increased almost 50 percent during this seven-year period. The number of drivers with a blood alcohol level above the legal limit, on the other hand, declined by 30 percent during the same period.

Speak to an attorney

If you have been charged with driving while under the influence of drugs, you face heavy fines and jail time in Minnesota. The experienced criminal defense attorneys at Sheridan & Dulas, P.A. can assess the case against you and work towards achieving the most favorable outcome.