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Presently 18 states now have set limits on cannabis levels of intoxication while driving. Toxicology results, however, take several weeks. With cannabis becoming more and more socially acceptable, a breathalyzer is inevitable.

Colorado and Washington have set the limit of THC at five nanograms per milliliter of blood.

Currently, the state of Washington tops all other states with the highest amount of drivers being arrested while under the influence of cannabis. Herb Hill, who teaches chemistry at Washington State University was aware of the problem. “I said, ‘Why don’t we have a Breathalyzer for that?’ He said none exists,” Hill told WYPR. “I said, ‘We can probably make one.’ ”

Hill’s team developed a hand-held device and had begun preliminary field testing. The device runs on a new technology called ion mobility spectrometry. The technology is entirely different than that of alcohol breathalyzers. Chemring, an instrument maker, will have commercialization rights. There is already a competitor, Cannabix Technologies Inc of Vancouver, BC.

“We had to go through institutional board review,” Hill said. “It took us almost a year to get permission to do this.” Hill’s volunteers brought their own cannabis and blew into his prototype. “It wasn’t very hard to find the volunteers,” he said. “ We have a waiting list of volunteers.”

Local cops seemed thrilled about the new device. Jake Yancey, an officer in Tumwater, Washington, said he would be “super excited.” Others were a little more skeptical. “Even if it is a preliminary device, we still need that level of accuracy and reliability of trust and confidence,” Lieutenant Rob Sharpe said. “Regardless where it comes into play in that arrest decision, we’re talking about people’s rights, their liberties, and freedoms. We need to be accurate.”

The question arises whether an instant breathalyzer will only lead to more cannabis arrests.

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