Driving under the influence.

A simulation of driving stoned on marijuana; image courtesy National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The Colorado State Patrol (CSP) is testing five saliva-testing devices that can determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana or other drugs, Jennifer Brice wrote for CBS Denver. There aren’t many of that type of device available, but CSP is testing them all over a three-year period to determine which to use as part of its regular routine.

According to Rob Low of FOX 31 Denver, if a driver suspected of DUID (driving under the incfluence of drugs) agrees to be tested, an officer swabs the inside of the suspect’s cheek for saliva. It takes a device about five minutes to produce an electronic readout that reports on the presence of several narcotics in the saliva, including marijuana. CSP Maj. Steve Garcia said the January 2014 legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado made it more urgent to stop drivers who have more than 5 ng/ml of THC in their system, Colorado’s threshold for impaired driving. THC is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

Field Testing

In the pilot program, CSP began field-testing saliva swab tests in April. One hundred twenty-five troopers have been trained in how to use the devices, which are used whenever a DUID suspect volunteers, Garcia said. Only 82 (5%) of drivers pulled over for suspected DUID have agreed to be tested using the new saliva test devices.

CSP said the results of those tests can’t be used by prosecutors in court, because they are in a pilot program that isn’t part of standard testing procedures. Garcia said:

The results will be used in discovery but the decision to arrest or charge was not influenced in any way based upon these devices.

Garcia said troopers only use the devices, which are made by five companies, after they have finished the CSP’s standard drug evaluation or blood tests on DUID suspects.

Goals of Study

The pilot program is looking for answers to the following questions:

  • Are the devices safe for an officer to use?
  • How accurate are the results?
  • Are they easy to use?
  • What are the end results when brought into court?

Lifeloc Technologies in Wheat Ridge, Colorado, is developing a marijuana Breathalyzer-Type device with a $250,000 grant from Colorado. Barry Know, Lifeloc’s CEO, said:

The advantage of a Breathalyzer is that it provides virtually instantaneous feedback to the officer, so within a matter of seconds they can get an accurate determination of blood alcohol content.

However, Knott said one disadvantage of breathalizers is that they can’t determine if a person has consumed a marijuana edible.

In March, CSP will be evaluating how successful the five oral testing devices are, and whatever the results, the pilot program will continue for two more years.

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