Driving while stoned could soon become a much trickier proposition if one California state lawmaker has his way. Republican Sen. Bob Huff of San Dimas (insert Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure joke) yesterday introduced a bill proposing that law enforcement use a new method to determine if motorists are driving under the influence of drugs. So reports the Los Angeles Times, which further notes that the handheld testing devices in question work by swabbing the inside of a driver's cheek and can detect marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, and opiates.
“Drugged driving is quickly becoming a serious public health and safety problem that is under-reported, under-enforced and under-recognized,” wrote Senator Huff in a press release. “We lack the same kind of deterrents for drugged driving as we do for drunk driving, yet highway safety hazards and fatalities are increasing with widespread prescription and illicit drug abuse across all demographics.”
The Times doesn't mention what specific type of saliva test is being proposed, or how recently a person must have done drugs for them to register with the device. And indeed, Dale Gieringer of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) told the paper that the efficacy of these tests is questionable at this point.
“Oral swab testing is still an unproven technology,” he observed. “Its accuracy has not been demonstrated in controlled, published scientific studies. There's no evidence that oral swab testing results have any correlation to impaired driving.”
With the statewide legalization of recreational marijuana likely up for vote in November, lawmakers appear anxious to get ahead of the booming business. Last year Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom worked to establish a regulatory framework for marijuana, similar to how the state regulates breweries, for once its inevitable legalization comes. That report, interestingly, touched on the potential use of roadside weed tests noting that they might be used "only as confirmation of impairment that is tested, observed and documented through a roadside impairment test, but not to consider it a valid measure of intoxication on its own."
This, essentially, suggests that you're only going to get swabbed if you're so stoned you can't walk a straight line or so stoned that you can't talk? However, of course, once police have the technology there is no way to know exactly how they will use it.
Interestingly, no one appears to be considering using the actual marijuana breathalyzer developed by Oakland-based startup Hound Labs. That device reads THC in a person's breath, and is set to begin trials at UCSF this year.
The legislation, SB 1462, is supported by the California Police Chiefs Association and California Narcotic Officers Association. The bill will face a policy committee hearing on April 19 in the Senate Public Safety Committee.