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Can Breathalyzers detect other substances?

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2020 | Criminal Defense |

Recreational marijuana officially became legal in Michigan back in 2018.

However, there are still strict regulations surrounding the use of marijuana. Individuals must be over 21, and they can only have up to 2.5 ounces on their person. Much like alcohol, it is also illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana – or any other drug, for that matter.

And efforts around the nation, as well as here in Michigan, are working to create Breathalyzers that can detect drugs in a driver’s system.

Marijuana rarely appears on breath tests

Detecting marijuana is not as straightforward as many police officers or lawmakers would like it to be.

A Breathalyzer can measure someone’s blood alcohol content (BAC) by having an individual breathe into the device. Police use this test because the concentration of alcohol in the blood is often similar to that in the breath.

However, marijuana and alcohol react very differently in the human body. Inhaling marijuana can make levels of THC spike in an individual’s blood, but these levels vary significantly and rapidly depending on the person, unlike alcohol. And testing THC levels by breath is not always accurate.

Could new breath tests detect marijuana?

A report from late 2019 explained that researchers at the University of Pittsburgh were working to create a device that could detect the levels of marijuana in someone’s system. Since then, many states took on testing the devices in traffic stops, with mixed results.

For example, Michigan State Police have tried several pilot programs with an Oral Fluid Roadside Analysis. This device tests saliva instead of breath. However, the results of these programs are still unclear in showing how accurate these tests are.

What does this mean for drivers?

Driving under the influence of marijuana could have the same consequences as driving drunk. And these new breath tests could potentially increase the risk drivers face if they are pulled over by police. This means it is more important than ever for Michigan drivers to:

  • Plan ahead for a safe ride home when out with friends;
  • Understand their rights in the event of a traffic stop; and
  • Know what police can and cannot do in a traffic stop.

This new technology might not be entirely accurate yet. Regardless, it is important to note that it is always possible to fight DUI charges to protect one’s future.