Washington State University (WSU) researchers in partnership with the scientific instrument maker Chemring have begun to develop a marijuana breath test for use in the field by police. Much like a “breathalyzer,” this device is intended to identify drivers who have been unsafely operating motor vehicles while under the influence of cannabinoids, marijuana or THC.

Successful creation of the instrument could lead to rapid field detection that may rule out the uncertain time frames and time-consuming nature of blood tests, the traditional method of detecting the presence of THC. Future laws concerning the validity and use of the instrument are uncertain, but drivers in states like Virginia where the possession and use of marijuana remain completely illegal should be aware that the use of such a device could potentially allow law enforcement to arrest individuals on-site without other physical or behavioral evidence of marijuana use.

A More Reliable Marijuana DUI Field Test?

As more states pass laws decriminalizing or legalizing the possession and use of marijuana, questions on how to enforce safe driving laws come into play. States where the sale of marijuana is legal to those with a permit, such as Colorado and Washington, are still adamant that drivers do not operate motor vehicles while under the influence of intoxicants, which includes marijuana/THC.

The only difficulty for these states is that their per se intoxicant limits of 5 micrograms per one milliliter of blood require individual blood tests to be processed in order to have solid evidence of marijuana use prior to driving. State testing labs are sometimes backed up for months or more, leading to long delays between arrests and prosecution in some instances.

WSU Scientists hope to relieve some of the backlog by providing more readily-available evidence of suspected drug use. The device they are trying to create will measure certain chemicals and particles held within the breath by use of ion mobility spectrometry. This same technique is used by the Travel Security Administration to detect possible bombs in airport screenings.

If successful, the WSU-created device would first require rigorous testing to ensure accuracy and reliability of its findings. Then, its viability as a detection method may be considered further with the use of pilot tests. Positive results for THC in the breath of the driver may not lead to irrefutable proof of intoxication in the eyes of the court during these tentative pilot programs, but would rather give an officer more grounds for reasonable suspicion of intoxication and cause them to order a subsequent blood test. Use of a marijuana field breath test in this way can allow for less superfluous tests and more evidence for conviction on cases where there is a high probability of driver intoxication.

Virginia Marijuana DUI Law

The use and possession of marijuana (under one ounce) is considered legal according to Virginia drug law as of July 1, 2021. However, use of any intoxicant can be grounds for DUI charges. Implied consent laws require individuals to submit to a blood test if requested by an officer, or else they may face penalties that include license revocation for a period of one year. The potential for Virginia to adopt use of marijuana DUI field breath tests could mean similar requirements for refusal while driving under the influence of marijuana/THC.

Individuals who have had a Virginia DUI arrest related to marijuana, illegal drugs, narcotics, alcohol or any other intoxicant will need a good legal defense lawyer to present their case as accurately as possible given the strict nature of Virginia drug laws. Consider the Wilson Law Firm for their experience, expertise and willingness to fight for your legal rights. Give us a call or contact us today.