Drug Law

New Hi-Tech Police Tool to Detect Marijuana Use

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The ever-informative Technology Review previews new handheld drug detection devices by Philips that can be employed by law enforcement (or potentially one’s employer) to detect the presence of banned or illicit substances in the human body, notably cannabis.

This is indeed bittersweet news as there are two likely policy outcomes. The first is that drivers will be subject to more and more roadside drug tests, however the secondary policy outcomes may provide some benefit for individuals and society: a) Current roadside testing is notoriously inaccurate and subject to challenge, b) Most testing today performed by law enforcement is urine or hair follicle testing (which only measures for inert metabolites from past drug use, not impairment or recent use), a roadside ’sobriety’ test that can detect very recent cannabis use (within a few hours) narrows the window of personal liability and criminality, and c) Many law enforcement personnel will agree in debate that the social controls created by legalization and regulation is ideally preferred to the international chaos, potential harm caused to police and ineffectiveness of prohibition–but the one inch of ground few police will yield on is driving while impaired.

Dozens of law enforcement officials, from patrol officers to heads of state police departments to state Attorneys General, have told me that they can not become converts to reform absent an accurate roadside test like they currently have for alcohol (which is an interesting and awkward way of acknowledging that current roadside drug tests police often give drivers are problematic).

Maybe, in time, the subset of American society that most vociferously opposes ending cannabis prohibition–the law enforcement community–will come to be sated by the satisfaction that similar to alcohol-impaired drivers, they’ll be able to fairly and accurately detect cannabis-impaired drivers.

After all, ask yourself this: When have you ever seen police or their industry associations (ie, Chiefs of Police Association, Fraternal Order of Police, etc…) publicly lobby in favor of bringing back alcohol prohibition and re-criminalizing alcohol consumption?

Have these law enforcement trade groups funded and supported public campaigns against impaired or reckless driving? Sure, and all the power to them! But, propagandizing that the producers, sellers and consumers of the very dangerous drug alcohol (or for that matter, pharmaceuticals) be considered common criminals, and a threat to society?

No. Americans will not (hopefully) ever see police and their trade groups seeking to re-vilify alcohol products.

What will it take to get the law enforcement community to finally support cannabis law reforms?

Our bittersweet friend…technology.

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