State may launch marijuana breathalyzer pilot program

Carmen Forman The Oklahoman

Oklahoma could launch a pilot program to conduct marijuana breathalyzer tests to determine if people are driving under the influence.

Oklahoma’s Legislature passed legislation last week to require the Department of Public Safety use $300,000 to pay for a medical marijuana pilot program to test out marijuana breathalyzers.

Rep. Scott Fetgatter, R-Okmulgee, said Oklahoma could be one of the first states in the nation to use this new technology.

“We have a lot of problems when it comes to medical marijuana and DUI laws and determining impairment, he said.

There are few accurate roadside tools to determine marijuana impairment.

Law enforcement can test for marijuana use using a blood, urine or hair sample, but the substance can be detected days after it was consumed.

“Right now, we don’t really have a lot of roadside testing options for drug screening,” said Joshua Smith, director of the Board of Tests for Alcohol and Drug Influence. “Most of those things are going to fall into a blood test or drug recognition expert doing an evaluation and giving an opinion.”

Field sobriety tests can reliably detect drug impairment, Smith said.

Yet for medical marijuana patients, who use frequently, it can be hard to pinpoint if that person is high or whether the cannabis in their system is from days earlier, Fetgatter said.

Hound Labs in California has pioneered a breathalyzer test that can test a person’s breath for THC, the main psychoactive component in marijuana that gives the high feeling. The breathalyzers would be able to determine if a person had consumed cannabis in the past few hours, which many consider the peak impairment window.

Under the pilot program, the results of a THC breathalyzer test would not be admissible in a court of law, Fetgatter said.

The Department of Public Safety will be required to promulgate rules and regulations to implement the pilot program.

Participation should be voluntary and test results should not be used in a punitive manner, Fetgatter said. He envisioned the breathalyzer units being spread among law enforcement in rural and urban areas and among local police, sheriffs and state troopers.

“It’s kind of a trial program to make sure the system works,” said Rep. Ross Ford, R-Broken Arrow. Ideally, the state would be able to collect data from the program and then report the findings back to the Legislature, he said.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Safety said it could take up to a year for the pilot program to get off the ground because the agency will want to see if other states have done similar pilot programs, come up with rules and may have to bid out the work.

“We have to research this and put together a program,” said spokeswoman Sarah Stewart.

House Bill 4161 awaits action from Gov. Kevin Stitt.