Oklahoma looks set to become one of the first states in the country to launch a pilot program of roadside marijuana breathalyzer tests.
The state’s legislature approved a bill that would require the Department of Public Safety to roll-out the $300,000 pilot program to determine whether patients of Oklahoma’s medical cannabis program are driving under the influence of marijuana or not. It’s now up to Gov. Kevin Stitt to sign it into law.
Rep. Scott Fetgatter filed the bill and reached out to California-based company Hound Labs, who claim to have developed a breathalyzer that can give an accurate measurement of an individual’s THC levels, to provide the tests.
“There is really not a good solution to determining impairment on a traffic stop,” Fetgatter said.
“We have a lot of problems when it comes to medical marijuana and DUI laws and determining impairment,” he added.
A 2018 national survey on drug use and health estimated nearly 12 million people drove whilst intoxicated on cannabis that year. Currently, law enforcement can only test for cannabis using a sample of an individual’s blood, urine or hair but traces of THC can linger in such samples for weeks. This means such tests are not useful for determining whether a person is impaired at the time the sample is taken.
“Right now, we don’t really have a lot of roadside testing options for drug screening,” said Joshua Smith, director of the Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence. “Most of those things are going to fall into a blood test or drug recognition expert doing an evaluation and giving an opinion.”
Hound Labs say their cannabis breathalyzers can reliably tell if a person had consumed marijuana in the past few hours, when an individual would be at their most impaired. But while Oklahoma has a set limit to determine alcohol impairment, there is no such agreed upon standard for cannabis.
“That hasn’t been done with THC. We don’t know how a level in your system correlates to actual impairment on your brain. There hasn’t been enough testing yet,” said John Hunsucker, a DUI attorney.
It is even far from conclusive that marijuana intoxication actively impairs a person’s driving ability. A congressional research body released a report last year which found little or no increased risk of a road accident owing to marijuana use.
Fetgatter stressed that participation in the pilot program for drivers would be voluntary and results should not lead to enforcement action or legal proceedings against any individual at this stage. Indeed, the results of a cannabis breathalyzer test would not currently be admissible in a court of law. The priority, rather, is to gather data through the pilot program and work out the next steps based on the findings.
“It’s kind of a trial program to make sure the system works,” said Rep. Ross Ford.
The Department of Public Safety would be responsible for getting the pilot program up and running, but appeared to be taken slightly off guard by the bill’s progress through the legislature. A spokesperson for the department said they’d only just heard about the proposal and guessed it may take up to a year before they’re ready to start testing drivers.
“We have to research this and put together a program,” said Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Sarah Stewart.