Attitudes about marijuana use are rapidly changing. With more evidence that the substance can be used to treat a variety of chronic health issues, and that the dangers it poses may be milder than those associated with alcohol, it seems likely that legal recreational marijuana use might be around the corner in Florida.
In 2016, voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 2, which legalized access to medical marijuana. As more people can now use the substance legally, law enforcement officials and others who are concerned about legalization worry that marijuana impairment behind the wheel will be a growing issue. They wouldn’t be the only ones predicting the increase of stoned drivers.
Several tech companies have been racing for years to develop a reliable breathalyzer for marijuana use. THC breathalyzers are being designed to detect the compound in a person’s breath, much like a breathalyzer would detect ethanol and record a person’s BAC. Law enforcement officials in Florida have yet to adopt THC breathalyzers because they’re still in the works, but there’s already growing controversy as to whether it’s ethical to use them.
Ultimately, a person’s THC level doesn’t correlate with how impaired they are. This differs vastly from detecting alcohol impairment; through many years of research, scientists have established that, at 0.08%, people can’t drive safely.
How Do Marijuana Breathalyzers Work?
Marijuana breathalyzers detect the presence of THC in the breath. Breathalyzers from one particular company, Hound Labs Inc., detect THC in parts per trillion within three hours of consumption and double as alcohol breathalyzers.
What’s Now the Best Way to Detect Marijuana Impairment?
One of the first five states to legalize marijuana was Washington in 1998. The state has grappled with the issue of gauging a driver’s marijuana impairment for decades. Eventually, Washington imposed a THC limit of 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood (5 ng/ mL), yet there is no scientific consensus for this threshold.
It’s impossible to tell whether someone is high or impaired from using the drug by measuring the amount of THC in their system. Marijuana users across the spectrum have varying levels of tolerance. A first-time smoker could be well over the limit with 5 ng/ mL of THC in their system, while a seasoned smoker or someone who uses medicinal cannabis would never be considered impaired before taking the test.
There are extreme chemical differences between marijuana and alcohol that cause them to have vastly different effects on the body. While alcohol is water-soluble and exits the body within a matter of hours, fat-soluble THC can be detected for days or weeks after use. The companies developing pot breathalyzers claim that THC impairment is highest in the 2-3 hour window after the user consumes marijuana, and that’s the ideal time to use their product.
A marijuana breathalyzer that detects THC and cannot determine impairment could put many innocent drivers behind bars. Some authorities believe it would make more sense to invest in stronger field sobriety tests or better training for police officers to detect odd driving patterns than in marijuana breathalyzers. Currently, the best way to determine if someone is high is to study their behavior and physical symptoms visually.
What are Signs that a Driver May be Impaired by Marijuana?
Marijuana impairment is a bit more challenging to detect, mainly because while alcohol tends to make a driver take more risks, marijuana often has the opposite effect. Those who are high on marijuana tend to make up for their shortcomings while driving by giving themselves more space between vehicles or reducing their speed. On the other hand, those who drink and drive may display more erratic behavior and speed. However, this does not imply that marijuana is safe to use while driving.
To detect a driver who is high on marijuana, police officers look for the following clues:
- Marijuana smell on the driver and/or in the car
- Red, bloodshot, watery eyes
- Dilated pupils
- Difficulty performing sobriety tests
- Body tremors
- Carefree attitude
- Slow and lethargic movements
The presence of several of the above behaviors may indicate that a driver is under the influence of marijuana.
Marijuana DUI Defense is Critical
Although recreational marijuana isn’t yet legal in the Sunshine State, many people use medical marijuana daily to help them cope with a myriad of health issues, from chronic pain to cancer. If you’re facing a DUI for marijuana use, there may be several defenses available. Attorney Brian P. Gabriel has defended DUI for more than 25 years in West Palm Beach, and he can present a strong and competent case while educating you on the judicial process.
For a free consultation, call 561-622-5575 or complete our contact form.