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Police may soon give THC breath tests

Florida DUI defense attorney

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have developed a prototype device — similar to an alcohol breathalyzer — that can potentially detect THC in a driver's breath, according to NPR.

The first stages of development began in 2016, when several states began legalizing cannabis. The prototype was built by chemistry professor Alexander Star and electrical and computer engineering professor Ervin Sejdic.

The device is able to detect THC in the breath by using carbon nanotubes, which are 1/100,000 the size of human hair. When a person blows into the device, the THC molecule binds to the surface of the tubes. The nanotubes are so sensitive that THC can be detected even when a person has alcohol in the breath.

Mass spectrometry has, historically, been the standard method for THC detection. The University of Pittsburgh's Swanson School of Engineering said that "nanotechnology sensors can detect THC at levels comparable to or better than mass spectrometry."

According to Star, the device is almost ready to be mass-produced, but would need a suitable industrial partner.

The biggest challenge Star and Sejdic faced when developing this prototype is correlating the amount of THC in someone's blood with his or her current level of impairment. A threshold on how much THC can be detected was placed on the device. This was done to avoid detecting marijuana use from several days prior.

Currently, no legal limits have been placed on driving under the influence of THC. With alcohol use, a blood alcohol concentration limit of 0.08 percent was agreed upon by the courts.

THC breathalyzers already being tested

Hound Labs is a breath technology company based in Oakland, California. According to NBC's Today, a device patented by Dr. Mike Lynn, Hound Labs CEO, was tested by law enforcement over Labor Day weekend. The device is touted as having the ability to accurately detect THC from cannabis products that are smoked, vaped, or eaten.

Law enforcement officers will look for initial clues that someone is driving high. This includes driving too fast or too slow, swerving, failing to stay in a lane, or not responding to current traffic conditions. Bloodshot eyes, delayed reaction, and impaired speech may also prompt police to further probe a suspect.


Breath tests bring legal concerns

The possession, distribution, and trafficking of marijuana is illegal in the state of Florida. In Florida, the same legal consequences for driving drunk apply to driving under the influence of marijuana or other drugs.

In November 2019, we discussed several inaccuracies identified in the devices used to administer breath tests. We may likely see the same issues raised with THC breathalyzers, especially since the technology is still in its infancy. Inaccurate impairment readings may be the leading concern regarding THC breath tests. That's because THC can stay in someone's system for days and even weeks after using marijuana.

If you were arrested and charged with DUI, you will need an experienced attorney on your side who can help you fight the charges. Contact Aguilar & Sieron, P.A. online or call our Jacksonville office at (904) 264-6000.

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