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Law Enforcement May Start Using Marijuana Breathalyzers in 2020


Marijuana breathalyzers will start to appear in 2020 after law enforcement raised concerns about the implications of legalizing marijuana on a national scale, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

While medical marijuana is now legal in over 33 U.S. states, law enforcement has been hesitant to voice their support for these recent policy changes. Prosecuting marijuana DUI's has become increasingly costly and time-consuming, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer. 

Tests normally used for alcohol, like oral fluid, urine, and hair cannot distinguish between the "peak impairment window" of marijuana use, which is when marijuana has been smoked or ingested within the last three hours. With the rise of edibles and vape products, it is also much harder to prosecute based on smell and the subsequent search of vehicles.

Hound Labs, Inc., a northern California based technology company, has a solution to this problem. 

"The fundamental challenge is that THC exists in breath in concentrations that are something like a billion times less than alcohol," Dr. Mike Lynn, Hound Labs CEO, told Digital Trends. "That means you need a breathalyzer that's literally a billion times more sensitive if you're going to use it for marijuana. It's like identifying 25 or 30 specific grains of sand on a beach that's well over a mile long. That's a pretty tough scientific [problem to solve]." 

Over the past five years, Hound Labs has been developing the world's first dual marijuana and alcohol breathalyzer, "The Hound." It is one of the few technologies capable of identifying when someone is driving under the influence of marijuana, according to a Hound Labs, Inc. press release

"It's a game-changer," senior fellow at The Brookings Institution, John Hudak said. "I've been saying for years it's only a matter of time before someone developed the technology and got the science right. That time apparently is now. And they're going to make a hell of a lot of money selling it to law enforcement agencies across the U.S. and Canada." 

Hound Labs plans to retail their breathalyzers for $5,000 a unit, with an additional $20 for the onetime use cartridges per test. "The Hound" is marketed to law enforcement, employers and insurance companies, with estimations that this will establish a $10 billion annual market, as predicted by Lynn. 

"With the publication of clinical study results validating breath as the new frontier for testing recent use of THC, investors can see the tremendous value that Hound Labs will bring to the market with its first-of-its-kind technology," Lynn said in the press release. "We are excited to usher in a new era of more meaningful and fair drug testing now that marijuana is both medically and recreationally available to so many people."

While the new technology makes law enforcement's prosecution of marijuana DUI's easier, Essence reporter Kirsten West Savali raises concerns surrounding the possible implications these breathalyzers will have on the Black community. 

African-Americans are nearly four times as likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than their white counterparts without the assistance of breathalyzers, according to Essence

Hound Labs will essentially be profiting off the expense of the African-American community and institutionalized anti-blackness, despite data to support the fact that African-Americans are not more likely than other groups to smoke or ingest marijuana, according to Savali.

Despite its benefits, Savali argues this could lead to a rise in racial profiling and racially discriminatory arrests starting in 2020. 

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