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Marijuana DUI? Now possible with new mouth-swab tests

California has been at the forefront of marijuana acceptance in the U.S., along with a handful of other states. However, even as the drug becomes more accepted in the mainstream, some concerns remain. Namely, how safe is it to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of marijuana or THC? And how would police departments test for the presence of the drug in your system?

Police in San Diego have now invested in a way to detect marijuana and other drugs in seemingly impaired drivers by using a mouth-swab device that has already been in usage in about a dozen other states, according to a recent report by the Los Angeles Times.

The Dräger DrugTest 5000

The two machines, named Dräger DrugTest 5000s, cost about $6,000 and are able to detect the presence of: THC, cocaine, opiates including heroin, methamphetamine, as well as “amphetamine, methadone and benzodiazepines,” according to the report.
It’s important to note, however, that while the machines can test for the presence of these drugs, they can’t detect the level of intoxication—that would need to be done by a blood test.

The machines will be used in DUI checkpoints, in an attempt to curb the increased trend of drugged driving—a trend first noticed in Colorado after the state legalized recreational marijuana usage.

How does the process work?

At DUI checkpoints, officers will be scanning for signs of marijuana impairment, including red or hazy eyes, delayed movements, and a general odor of the drug. If there is suspicion, the officers can then ask the driver to either submit to a field sobriety test or the Dräger DrugTest 5000, which uses a mouth-swab that is placed in a tube of testing solution. 

Like with alcohol tests, the driver can refuse. However, officers can then mandate that a blood test be necessary.

The Dräger is designed to only look for the active THC compound that is the cause of the “high.” It is not meant to look for the inactive compounds that can be present in a user’s body for weeks after ingestion.

A key distinction between marijuana and alcohol, however: there is no legal threshold for the amount of marijuana that can be in a person’s system while operating a motor vehicle, as opposed to the standard .08% blood alcohol level.

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