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Pot breathalyzer enters testing, law enforcement skeptical

Posted at 10:34 PM, May 10, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-11 00:34:13-04

The legalization of marijuana in many states has created a mad dash for a better breathalyzer.

A couple of companies have developed a breathalyzer that can tell if you recently ingested or inhaled pot.

And since Idaho is virtually surrounded by states that sell recreational or medicinal marijuana, you would think law enforcement would love to get their hands on a working pot breathalyzer.

But not so much.

"In some ways it would be helpful, but really, its of little to no use to us," says Corporal Brandon Frasier of the Meridian Police Department.

How could that be? It turns out, the breathalyzer concept was perfect for alcohol, but little else.

"Pot and alcohol are just totally different drugs. Alcohol is very easy and predictable in how it impairs a body and how you measure that.  There is a lot about marijuana and canabis products we don't know," says Frasier.

The problem is even though the new breathalyzers can detect how much THC is on your breath and whether you smoked in the past four hours or so, no one knows what level is enough to make you dangerous behind the wheel. Frasier says that is a problem for cops and prosecutors: "We have to show that the drug is impairing them."

But the rules on the road and the rules in the workplace are very different things.

Businesses do not want workers who are high, but in states where pot is legal, it is tricky to enforce.

"If it's medically prescribed, you have a right to use it after work," says Jenny Lynn of HoundLabs, "But if you work somewhere and they do drug testing and test saliva or blood or urine, you're going to test  positive."

That's because those tests can't determine if you smoked recently.  And if you fire someone for testing positive when they weren't even high?

"Employers face wrongful termination suits for people who used responsibly," says Lynn.

Hound labs says its breathalyzer protects those who use responsibly while allowing businesses to tell if someone has smoked recently enough to affect their job.

"What our device does is lets you distinguish recent use from past use." says Lynn.

With Canada looking at legalizing pot nationwide and more states in the U.S. joining them, HoundLabs says the market for business based breathalyzers could be in excess of a billion dollars.  But clearly, the laws and the science must advance drastically for them to be trusted in the court of law.