Numerous states have recently legalized the recreational use of marijuana. When new laws pass, there are always issues that arise after the law is implemented. One issue that has arisen with the passage of the recreational marijuana laws is how to determine when a driver is too high to be behind the wheel. Unlike with alcohol, there isn't a definitive way to measure marijuana impairment. According to the Denver Post, THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) “reacts differently in the body, it metabolizes differently and its impairing impact is different” than the effects of alcohol. In addition, the effect of cannabis also differs depending on the way it is ingested. With alcohol, there is only one way to consume it, but with marijuana, people can smoke it, munch on edibles, or use a concentrate. However, similar to alcohol, how much it affects an individual depends on how much they consume.
States have been trying to set an amount of THC that is permitted to be in the blood before a driver is considered to be impaired. However, a particular amount of THC in the blood doesn't necessarily reflect impairment. Despite this, Colorado does have a legal limit of THC that is permitted to be in the blood, 5 ng/mL. It is not a ‘per se' limit as 0.08% is with alcohol though. Rather “THC levels are only considered [a] ‘permissibly inference' of impairment.” In some states, however, the 5ng/mL is considered a per se limit and some states have a zero tolerance policy.
Still, law enforcement needs a way to tell if a driver is too high to be driving. According to the Denver Post, the Colorado State Patrol has been testing out a saliva test “that could bring more immediate and reliable information about the level of active THC in a person's system.” Other companies, like Hound Labs and Cannabix Technologies, are “developing small handheld devices with tubes that people can blow into, just like the roadside tests that detect drunken drivers.” However, these tests wouldn't tell how impaired someone is, instead the devices would “simply give a yes or no on the presence of THC.”
In Georgia, marijuana is still illegal for recreational use, though it is permitted for medicinal purposes. However, having a quick test method in Georgia would still be beneficial to both drivers and police. A scientific test like a marijuana breathalyzer could help to confirm or deny an officer's suspicion that a driver has been smoking. Another benefit to having a test like this is would provide objective data rather than just rely on the subjective judgment of a drug recognition expert.
This would have been helpful in the case of a female driver who was pulled over earlier this year by Cobb County police officer T.T. Carroll. Carroll, who is a certified drug recognition expert, determined that the driver was operating her vehicle while under the influence of marijuana. However, her blood test later showed that she had no marijuana in her system – which is what she told Officer Carroll at the time of her arrest. If the officer had a quick roadside test, then perhaps the driver would not have been arrested at all. To learn more about this case, check out this blog post.