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Washington State Developing Marijuana Breath Test

Posted by Steve Karimi | Dec 05, 2014 | 0 Comments

A research team at Washington State University is currently developing a marijuana breath test that will function much like the portable breathalyzers used by police when they investigate alcohol-related driving-under-the-influence crimes.

The amount of drivers on the roadways in and around Seattle under the influence of marijuana has greatly increased since Initiative 502 went into effect. In 2013, the first full year the initiative was in effect, a quarter of blood samples taken tested positive for marijuana.  The year before, about 18 percent of blood samples came back positive.

As blood samples take several weeks to process, officers currently cannot know with certainty whether a suspect is driving under the influence of marijuana at the time of their traffic stop.

Researchers are basing the new breath test on existing technologies, such as the ones that detect drugs and explosives at airports. It uses a process known as ion mobility spectrometry.

The first iterations of the new breath test probably will not be able to tell officers the exact level of THC in the body—Initiative 502 set the legal limit at 5 nanograms—but it will be able to tell officers whether the intoxicating chemical is present.

Blood test results taken later would then be taken as evidence admissible in court. This is similar to the process used for driving under the influence cases that involve alcohol.

Researchers hope that the test will at least give officers enough information to have a higher level of confidence that a suspect is legally under the influence before they make an arrest.

They plan to start trials with humans in early 2015.

Technological innovations that help law enforcement officers do their jobs without invading the rights of others should always be lauded. If, after some time, researchers develop a breath test that can accurately analyze how many nanograms of marijuana are active in a driver's blood, it makes sense to give the police this tool to do their jobs better and to ensure that they are not arresting people that are not breaking the law.

Up until that point of technological advancement, however, there are reasons to worry about the use of a breathalyzer that does not quantify the level of intoxication of the driver. DUIs have immediate consequences that occur before the legal process really starts… and, certainly, before the results of a blood test are available. The driver's car will be impounded. They may face a loss of their license.

That a test says that the driver may or may not be intoxicated should not be enough to punish a driver. This does not arise to the level of probable cause needed for an arrest.  Until a better, more definitive test is developed, the police should be weary of using it.

If you are accused of a DUI in or around Seattle, contact The Law Offices of Steve Karimi. Steve has experience both defending and prosecuting those accused of driving under the influence. His experience and understanding of DUI prosecution helps him provide the best possible representation. Do not hesitate to contact him.

About the Author

Steve Karimi

Steve Karimi attended Pepperdine University School of Law. After graduation he worked as a prosecutor in Seattle where he gained valuable insight to the criminal justice system. Attorney Karimi uses his experiences as a prosecutor everyday only now he fights for the justice of those accused.


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Named a "rising star" in criminal defense by Washington Law and Politics magazine, Mr. Karimi is a former prosecutor for King County who uses his insight into prosecution strategies to protect his clients' rights in criminal court.