Cannabis Testing Technology Slow to Catch On with Law Enforcement

by | Aug 15, 2019

Detroiter Karhlyle Fletcher is the host of High Lit, a cannabis research and classic literature podcast featuring leading voices and independent music. In addition to years in written and video cannabis journalism, he is also a traditional author.

Five hundred communities in Michigan won’t allow for recreational cannabis sales, yet still, it is the substance that people most often test positive for on the roadside. 

Investigation Reveals that Cannabis Testing Technology is Unreliable

After a two-year review, the Michigan Impaired Driving Safety Commission recommended against the use of testing for cannabis in blood or saliva. Instead, they recommend using roadside sobriety tests to determine whether or not a driver is inebriated.

This suggestion is made to avoid unnecessarily charging or detaining a citizen when they are medicating with cannabis responsibly. 

In Canada, devices such as Abbott’s SoToxa, and the Drager Drug Test 5000, both of which test saliva, are currently in some level of use. These devices do not claim to prove the impairment of the driver, but simply verify whether or not they have used cannabis recently.

Kyla Lee, a Canadian lawyer, was quick to criticize these devices because they can test positive in inappropriate situations.

Lee worked with Jan Semenoff, a former police officer, to administer tests with the Drager DrugTest 5000. They even found that a person who had never used cannabis or CBD oil tested positive for cannabis.

In addition to this, an individual who ate a Tim Horton’s poppy seed cake 30 minutes before the test was administered tested positive for being inebriated.

cannabis testing technology

Einat Velichover, a development manager with Drager, responded to these results by saying Lee and Semenoff were using the wrong country setting for the device.  Velichover then went on to say individuals would be subject to more tests if a positive result came from the Drager Drugtest 5000, similar to what happens if a driver’s BAC reads too high on a breathalyzer.

Michelle Gray is a motorist who was pulled over in Nova Scotia. She medicates with cannabis for multiple sclerosis, and so she is a regular user. Gray’s license was suspended after her saliva tested positive for cannabis, even though police testing later revealed she was not inebriated.

In addition to this, although she was innocent, her car was impounded, she had to pay $400, and she missed four days of work. Her lawyer plans to file a legal challenge under Section 7 of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Cannabis Testing Technology vs. A Pursuit of Fairness

The Impaired Driving Safety Commission published this in 2019: “Due to the initial rapid elimination phase of ∆9-THC followed by the long terminal elimination phase, blood plasma concentrations of ∆9-THC are indicative of exposure, but are not a reliable indicator of whether an individual is impaired.”

This was furthered by the observation: “The implications of tolerance to cannabis are that lower blood ∆9-THC levels in infrequent users may result in impairment that would only be experienced at higher ∆9-THC levels by regular cannabis users.” The commission does not believe levels of THC present in an individual, or whether they used it recently or not, is always relevant to their performance while driving.

Sobriety tests are a traditional way to reveal whether or not an individual is impaired. THC levels which could induce dissociation for some individuals might not get daily users of cannabis high, and THC levels which are present while a daily user is sober might be enough to induce psychosis in another individual. It’s better to rely on the performance of an individual than on science that is unclear.

Positive Thoughts in Michigan

The Impaired Driving Safety Commission suggests focusing on polydrug use over those who only use cannabis. If an individual is using a mixture of alcohol, cannabis, or amphetamines, then their decision-making will be altered. Cannabis use alone does not provide such an effect.

When cannabis is mixed with alcohol, cocaine, or other such substances, the risk for unsafe driving is prominent. Polydrug use is not an attribute of medical cannabis use, but drug abuse in general. Driving under the influence is illegal, but responsibly using medical cannabis is not being inebriated. 

Currently, the Michigan Police use blood tests as the standard way to test the THC levels of an individual, but many prosecutors and officers are hesitant to suggest such a test without probable cause. 

Saliva tests have been administered and experimented with by the police, but Michigan authorities remain skeptical of implementing such devices broadly due to inconsistencies between them and blood tests.