Soon, pot-doing drivers will have something other than a joint, bong, or vape-thing to wrap their lips around. Oakland-based startup Hound Labs has announced its handheld marijuana breathalyzer, a product developed at UC Berkeley that begins UCSF trials next year ahead of voluntary roadside tests with prototypes at the hands of Alameda County sheriff’s deputies.
"Using only one or two breaths, the patent-pending science and technology detects THC and through an extraction process, measures THC to levels well below 500 picograms," explains the company on its website.
Retired California Highway Patrol Commissioner Dwight “Spike” Helmick tells the Chronicle that the technology “would help law enforcement and it would let a lot of people off the hook who may not have been under the influence when they were pulled over." Current THC testing requires blood, urine, or saliva samples and isn't instantaneous. Neither does it paint an accurate portrait of a driver's impairment. Lingering THC from last week's smoke sesh can stay with a marijuana user well after their dazed stupor has subsided and they've regained the capacity to operate a motor vehicle as expertly as the next human being.
“Right now the standards are completely arbitrary," Hound Labs CEO Mike Lynn tells Reuters in Fortune. I would argue that they are useless." Lynn may be uniquely poised to become a leader in the new testing field: The practicing emergency medicine physician, trauma center teacher, and clinical faculty member at UCSF spent ten years in the venture capital field specializing in medical devices and biotechnology.
As the legal reefer industry gains momentum, “For many people out there, the concern about drugged driving is one of the main political hindrances to supporting legalization,” says Andrea Roth, a UC Berkeley law professor with an interest in impairment testing. "I think anything that could be seen as a legitimate way of dealing with DUI-marijuana can only help the legalization movement.”
Pointing to the immediacy of testing, Lynn argues that “by measuring the amount of THC in breath, we can focus on people who are impaired.” However, Roth notes that impairment differs from the amount of THC a person is on and can vary vastly from person to person.
Last but not least, Hound Labs' technology can't test for edible marijuana. Not trying to give anyone ideas here, just reporting on a shortcoming.