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Three Years After Cannabis Legalization, A Look At The State Of THC Drug Testing




Since the legalization of recreational marijuana, regulators have struggled to develop an accurate testing method to test driver impairment.
Since the legalization of recreational marijuana, regulators have struggled to develop an accurate testing method to test driver impairment.
/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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The legalization of recreational marijuana in California brought with it a number of pressing questions about regulation, sales, taxes and law enforcement.

One of the biggest? How will police be able to determine whether a driver is high or not, and how do you go about creating a state benchmark, like blood alcohol content, to determine how high is too high to drive.

It’s a question we’ve discussed in the past on AirTalk, and one that law enforcement and toxicology experts have been working to answer, especially since the legalization of cannabis. So far, law enforcement statewide has been flying relatively blind in this regard. While there are several companies working on devices that police can use during routine traffic stops, some of whom say they are looking to have theirs on the roads by 2020, the majority of law enforcement agencies still rely largely on specially-trained officers called Drug Recognition Experts to determine whether or not a driver is impaired by cannabis or other drugs.

But unlike with alcohol, where a blood alcohol content of .08 has been set as the standard for the point at which a person is too drunk to drive, such a benchmark does not exist for marijuana. The drug affects each user differently, and while there are studies being done to determine how THC affects drivers generally, the research is still inconclusive. And on the workplace side, we’re learning that CBD, a nonintoxicating compound also found in the cannabis plant, can show up as THC on at least one common test. CBD has risen in popularity in the last several years thanks to the medicinal benefits it offers without the “high” that comes with smoking the plant’s buds.

Today on AirTalk, we’ll check in on the state of marijuana drug testing in the context of the workplace and law enforcement use, and look at the science and technology behind determining whether someone is impaired by cannabis.

Guests:

Amanda Chicago Lewis, freelance journalist covering the cannabis industry; her latest piece for the New York Times is “CBD or THC? Common Drug Test Can’t Tell the Difference”; she tweets @msamandalewis

Noah Debrincat, co-founder and CEO of Sanntek Labs, a company based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada outside Toronto that is developing a breathalyzer device for cannabis