COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Colorado State Patrol is in the process of adding to its arsenal the tools available to troopers that would confirm the presence of drugs in a driver’s system.
Officers rely on behavioral cues – probable cause – to pull over a driver: speeding up, slowing down, drifting into another lane. From there, a roadside sobriety test “peels back” the next layer of impairment, much like a drunk driving test. It’s those visual cues that law enforcement use to prosecute a person’s impairment.
“You have four legalized states, you’re gonna have four more legalized states in just a few months, and you even have the country of Canada going to legalization,” said CDOT Highway Safety Manager, Glenn Davis. “We realized that we're probably gonna have a whole lot more customers."
Since marijuana has come out of the shadows, there have been no changes in the way technology confirms an officer’s observations in Colorado: a blood test – which can cost agencies hundreds of dollars and take months to return – is invasive, and isn’t always admissible evidence in court. Plus, drivers don’t have to consent to it.
It means the pressure is on.
Nearly four years after its legalization, CSP is in its second year of a pilot program to test a handful of roadside marijuana detection devices. The program is hush-hush; CSP declined to comment on which and how many devices are being considered, or even how long the testing phase will last.
However, CDOT, which works in tandem with CSP, says some oral fluid testing devices in the running are the size of a pregnancy test; another, the size of a toaster.
Take, for instance, the Dräger5000. On the market since 2009, it tests saliva for the presence of seven drugs: THC, opiates, cocaine, amphetamine, methamphetamine, benzodiazepine, and methadone. It’s currently being used in Arizona, Nevada, California, and New York.
“We're looking specifically at delta-9 THC, that doesn't have the ability to stay in the body that long,” said Brian Shaffer, Bid & Tender Manager for the device. “If you just have behavior alone, it's really difficult to tell the story. What our tool does, is it tells the element of presence.”
Subjects insert the device’s analyzer between their cheek and gums to absorb saliva, the analyzer is then read, and within four minutes positive or negative drug readings are printed for the officer.
Depending on accessories, the complete Dräger5000 system costs $2,500 - $5,500.
See the Dräger5000 below:
Hound Labs Breathalyzer
Then, there’s the Hound Labs breathalyzer, one of the first of its kind. Developers teamed up with scientists at UC Berkley to tag a portion of the THC molecule to form the non-invasive breath tester. Now that human subjects have been under testing for two years, device-makers say the breathalyzer will be commercially available by year’s end.
“We don’t want a device that says you smoked pot three days ago and gets you arrested. That’s pointless,” said Hound Labs CEO Dr. Mike Lynn, who is an emergency medicine physician and reserve deputy sheriff. “People who smoke pot tend to get high and then it gets into their bloodstream very, very quickly. After two hours, people are back to their baseline.”
The Hound Labs Breathalyzer – once on the market – measures amount of active THC and alcohol. It will cost $500 - $800, similar to the price of an alcohol breathalyzer.
See the Hound Labs Breathalyzer below:
Colorado leaders are eyeing similar pilot programs in other states. Especially Jenn Knudsen, the Traffic Safety Resource Prosecutor, with the Colorado District Attorneys' Council.
“Can we use it [roadside marijuana device readings] in court, not just for probable cause?” asked Knudsen. “Certainly, the more tools, the better.”
Whatever device is selected by State Patrol must then be approved by the Health Department. Thereafter, state statutes would need to conform to allow for such a device to be used.