New pot breathalyzer could help crack down on people driving while high

ATLANTA — A device that can test to see if someone is high on marijuana is on the way. Police said a pot breathalyzer could help discourage people from driving under the influence of marijuana, which puts themselves and others at risk.

With more states legalizing or decriminalizing marijuana police said growing numbers of people are driving high.

“I think there’s a lot who do it here. In Atlanta, there’s a high consumption of marijuana that affects the way you drive as well,” driver Carla Contreras said.

“Do we have people driving on our roads impaired from drugs? Yes,” said Dunwoody Police Chief Billy Grogan.

A new AAA study found nearly 15 million people report driving while high on pot. The not-for-profit said that makes them twice as likely to be involved in a crash.

“If someone is high on marijuana, they probably shouldn’t be behind the wheel?” asked Channel 2’s Tom Regan.

“Probably not,” driver Raven Hall responded.

Police have long used portable alcohol breathalyzers to test if a driver is drunk. Now researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are testing a breathalyzer that can tell if someone is under the influence of marijuana.

“As soon as it’s turned on, it will start going through the sequence of the measurement. So, it will initialize,” said University of Pittsburgh chemistry professor Alex Star, Ph.D.

They tested it on one person, and it worked. Because of federal regulations, they will now have to test it with a machine blowing the TCH, the intoxicating compound in marijuana. “And it will indicate to the user when to start blowing,” Star said.

Within seconds, the message pops up that THC is present and how much. It should tell if a person had smoked marijuana within the last three hours.

“I think this device will take away that guessing. So, you don’t just rely on human observations, but there will also be scientific data to support that observation,” Star said.

The device is just one of several in the testing stage. Researchers said their device is different because it’s cheaper since it is made with a 3D printer. They said it’s also more versatile since it can be used for both pot and alcohol.

“It certainly would be useful,” Grogan said.

He told Channel 2 Action News the legal challenge of using a pot breathalyzer is first deciding what is the amount of THC for a driver to be impaired.

“That’s the real challenge because my knowledge is there’s no real definitive scientific research that has said if you’re at this level from marijuana then you’re impaired, you can’t drive safely,” said Chief Grogan.

The Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia said there is no “per se” THC limit for cannabis in Georgia. A driver is DUI if they are under the influence of any drug to the extent, they are less safe to drive.

Many drivers told Channel 2 Action News they believe a pot breathalyzer is overdue.

“I think it’s a pretty good idea,” Cassandra El-Amin said. “Do you think it will make the roads safer?” Regan asked her.

“Yes,” she replied.

One company reported it will have a pot breathalyzer ready for sale before the end of the year that can be used on the road by police or in the workplace by employers.