The number of states that have legalized the use of marijuana for one reason or another continues to increase. Marijuana, like alcohol, may now be used for recreational purposes quite legally in several states, but that doesn’t mean that it should be used while driving, or that you should be driving while impaired by smoking or consuming marijuana. Alaska’s DUI laws prohibit impairment by alcohol or any other controlled substance like marijuana. Up to now, the only way that police are able to detect that someone was driving while impaired because of their use of marijuana was either seeing them smoking a joint, observing their driving behavior, or as a result of a similar ‘sobriety’ type test as is used frequently when confronting drivers suspected of driving after drinking alcohol.
None of these forms of evidence are very reliable. There is no compulsion on drivers to agree to completing a field sobriety test, whether there is a suspicion that they have been drinking or have been smoking marijuana. These tests are more tests of someone’s coordination and athleticism rather than real impairment tests. In the case of alcohol, there are several ways that police can test a person for alcohol content, none of which are foolproof and free of errors. The roadside breath test is rarely used as confirmation, but it can lead to a driver being taken to a police station where they are breathalyzed or a blood or urine sample taken. In Alaska, like most other states, if a breathalyzer shows a blood alcohol content of more than 0.08% (less for minors or commercial drivers), then this can be used as evidence in a DUI charge. There has been no comparable chemical test for THC, the active ingredient in Marijuana until now.
A company in California claims to have invented a breathalyzer for detecting tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) which can be used by law enforcement officers to detect the presence of THC in dr4ivers. The company, Hound Labs, claims that its new machine can detect whether someone has smoked marijuana in the last 2 hours or not. This time period is generally taken as the period in which the peak of THC impairment lasts. It works in a similar way to a breathalyzer used for alcohol and in fact Hound Labs claims that the same machine can be used for either marijuana or alcohol. If this is true, it could be a useful asset for police trying to test DUI suspects.
How it works
If a police officer suspects that someone has been smoking pot, he or she can ask the driver to blow into the new marijuana breathalyzer for 30 seconds. Any THC in the driver’s breath activates a series of bars. The machine apparently does not actually measure the amount of THC in the breath, simply whether there is any THC at all present.
It takes around 4 minutes for the test to show whether THC is present. That’s quite a lot longer than a typical alcohol breathalyzer, but there are other advantages touted by Hound Labs as well. The only way up to now that THC presence can chemically be determined in someone’s body is to take a blood or urine sample and have it tested. The tests take a couple of weeks and do not reveal how long ago the THC was taken. That means that the tests are more or less useless for proving impairment as they do not prove that the driver tested actually smoked or consumed marijuana not long before they were stopped in their vehicle.
Will the marijuana breathalyzer be used in Alaska?
At the moment, the new machine is being tested in the field by police in a number of states, but not Alaska. Whether it will be proven to be as effective as the range of Intoxylizers and other breathalyzers currently used to determine alcohol content is yet to be shown. One of the problems with marijuana impairment is that while you can be arrested and charged with only slight signs of impairment there is quite a lot of controversy and lack of firm scientific consensus on how, if anything, taking marijuana actually affects driving ability. There are even those who suggest that small amounts of THC actually improve concentration!
Whatever the eventual fate of the Hound Labs THC detector the law in Alaska stands as it is. You can still be arrested for DUI if police have some sort of evidence that you are driving under the influence of marijuana or other drug and your driving is impaired. Because the methods for proving impairment are relatively subjective there are good grounds for challenging a DUI marijuana charge. If you have been accused of DUI you should contact criminal defense attorney, Dattan Scott Dattan, who will vigorously defend your innocence or will fight to represent you in court. You can contact the Law Office of Dattan Scott Dattan in Anchorage at 907-276-8008.