Testing for Marijuana Impairment

As recreational marijuana use becomes legal in several states and the push continues for expanded legalization, law enforcement has a new issue to deal with: spotting impaired drivers. As drunk driving has gained awareness and public service announcements to warn against driving while alcohol impaired have become the norm, the breathalyzer has become the standard tool to test a driver’s alcohol level. As with drinking, marijuana also causes serious impairment in motor skills, judgment and perception – all necessary for operating a motor vehicle safely. But how can impairment due to marijuana use be tested?

In the past, there hasn’t been one single preferred test for spotting marijuana use in drivers, but some new research may change that. Preliminary studies on the detection of THC in the breath of marijuana smokers is helping to develop a new breath test that can determine whether a person has used marijuana within the previous 30 to 150 minutes. THC, the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana, is key in this new advance.

The scientists published their work in September 2013, detailing a new breath test they have developed that can in most cases detect recent marijuana use. This could be valuable not only for law enforcement who are trying to keep impaired drivers off the roads but it could also find its way into the workplace or as a tool for parents to test their teens. This may not prevent DUI, but will at least give officials a standardized way to test drivers who smoke and then get behind the wheel.

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