A former Canadian Mountie says he has developed an effective marijuana breath machine to test drivers for intoxication.
Kal Malhi, a former officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in British Columbia, said he invented the cannabis Breathalyzer after 10 years on the job, four in the drug enforcement division. More drivers are getting behind the wheel stoned because the drug is harder to detect than alcohol, he said.
“People are becoming very afraid to drink and drive nowadays because they feel that they will get caught and charged, but they’re not afraid to drug and drive because they don’t feel that law enforcement will do anything about it,” Malhi said in June.
Makers Hope to Prevent Crashes
Malhi’s machine, which he calls the Cannabix Breathalyzer, works much like a standard alcohol Breathalyzer, he said. It can detect cannabis use within the last two hours. It’s pending a patent and needs additional field-testing, he said.
Dr. Raj Attariwala, a Vancouver radiologist and co-inventor of the machine, said the biggest auto collisions he sees involve drug or alcohol use.
“As engineers, we’re always trying to make the world a little bit better,” Attariwala said.
Current Approaches to High Driving
Canada and the United States rely primarily on field sobriety tests to snare drivers under the influence of cannabis. Police must observe actual signs of traffic violations and, typically, impairment on the part of the motorist.
Several states in the U.S. have recently adopted “per se” stoned driving laws. The most stringent make it a crime to drive with any amount of weed in your system, whether it’s active compounds that are making you high or inactive compounds lingering in your blood for days or even weeks.
Less restrictive per se laws use maximum levels of cannabis metabolites in the blood, similar to per se laws for alcohol: Anything over a certain level counts as impaired driving.
But pot levels in the bloodstream can only be determined using blood, urine, or saliva screening. In either country – Canada or the U.S. – police must have probable cause to believe a driver is impaired before they can arrest the person and subject him or her to a blood draw or mouth swab.
Stoned Driving Penalties Vary in U.S., Canada
Impaired driving in Canada comes with a fine of at least $1,000 and a one-year license suspension. As in the U.S., high driving is a crime, so it goes on a driver’s permanent criminal record. These are the same penalties that are imposed on drunken motorists.
Drivers in Canada usually don’t face those kinds of charges, though. Instead, their licenses are suspended for 24 hours.
In many parts of the U.S., on the other hand, stoned driving is treated as a more serious offense than drunk driving. It can be a felony regardless of the amount of weed found in a motorist’s bloodstream.
But marijuana doesn’t work like alcohol. It affects different people in different ways, and a driver who scores above a pre-determined level may not in fact be impaired. Likewise, a driver may have evidence of pot in his or her system from past use yet be completely sober.