In Massachusetts, the legalization of adult use of cannabis has left legislators and law enforcement scrambling to solidify methods for determining if a driver is impaired.
Studies have shown that cannabis impairs judgement, motor coordination, and slows reaction times. Therefore, some believe that driving while impaired by cannabis can be just as dangerous as driving drunk. However, these substances manifest in the body in different ways, and present different outwardly-visible signs of impairment. A new technology coming to the market will assist law enforcement officers in determining if a driver is impaired by cannabis.
Send In The Hound
The legalization of cannabis in Massachusetts, and across the nation, has created a demand for new technology. The Hound cannabis Breathalyzer from Hound Labs, once released, will be the world’s first cannabis breathalyzer. According to their website, this breathalyzer “uses one-of-a-kind technology to measure recent cannabis use that correlates with the peak window of impairment identified by global researchers.” They claim that this test will be able to detect THC in the user no matter the consumption method. This means that law enforcement will be able to detect cannabis present in a user’s system whether it has been smoked, vaporized, or eaten.
The unit collects data from the user and provides an instant THC reading. This technology is intended to be used in conjunction with other training that the officer receives – he or she will first use other detection methods to determine if someone is impaired, and then use The Hound to confirm their suspicion. This is similar to the way that an officer would determine alcohol impairment. The reading is instantly available to the officer and also stored on the device for any future needs. The Hound also measures for alcohol impairment, which means law enforcement would only have to carry one unit into the field.
Currently, law enforcement relies on impairment training, blood tests, and urine tests to determine if THC is present in someone’s system. However, the presence of THC in the blood does not necessarily signify current impairment, as THC sticks around in the body for several weeks after the last use. According to the Boston Globe, “unlike a blood alcohol concentration, which can give law enforcement officials information about a person’s level of impairment, there isn’t a straightforward way to correlate the amount of cannabis in a person’s system with the level to which they are impaired.” The Hound intends to help change that.
What Does This Mean For Massachusetts?
Many former and current Massachusetts lawmakers and law enforcement officials are deep in the fight against drivers impaired by cannabis. Hound Labs, the company developing The Hound Cannabis Breathalyzer, includes on its Board of Directors former Massachusetts state senator and representative Warren Tolman. In addition to having served in both houses of the legislature, Tolman’s political career has included unsuccessful runs for Massachusetts Lieutenant Governor, Governor, and Attorney General. Throughout his career he was anti-tobacco and worked to curb the influence of big tobacco in government.
While not anti-cannabis, many current Massachusetts senators are working to prevent the rise of big cannabis. For his part, Tolman is now working from the private sector to limit the negative effects of inhaled substances in Massachusetts via breathalyzer technology. However, his previous political career and current involvement in cannabis business demonstrates a potential overlap between private industry and public servants in Massachusetts that the Boston Globe article suggests could be a conflict of interest.
Current Governor Charlie Baker opposed the legalization of recreational cannabis in 2016. Now he is working to enact the will of his constituents while ensuring they stay safe. He has suggested an increase in the “police training for drug impairment and the punishment of suspected impaired drivers who refuse a biological test for cannabis.”
As long as you don’t drive impaired, this new technology and the laws being put in place around it shouldn’t affect you. Cannabis impairment varies from person to person, your body composition, tolerance level, potency, and consumption method will determine at what point you become “impaired.” Soon, law enforcement will be equipped with more technology to determine if a driver is impaired and then prosecute them. However, because cannabis tolerance and impairment are different from person to person, it is difficult, if not impossible, to create a device that fairly judges the impairment of everyone. If this device is adopted by law enforcement, there is a chance that some people may be falsely charged with DUI’s.