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Field tests to determine marijuana impairment may be closer

On Behalf of | Apr 5, 2023 | Drunk Driving

With the passage of last November’s state ballot initiative on cannabis, it will be legal in Maryland beginning on July 1 of this year for adult recreational use. As in all other states that allow recreational use, that doesn’t mean that there are no limitations.

Specifically, those who are at least 21 years of age can have and use a small “personal use” amount, as specified under the law. For the most part, it can’t legally be consumed in a public place. You certainly cannot legally operate a vehicle while under its influence. In addition to being illegal, it can be highly dangerous.

Even though recreational marijuana has become legal in more and more states, law enforcement authorities have been hampered in their ability to prove that someone was driving a vehicle under the influence of it since there’s no standardized breathalyzer-type test to determine how impaired a driver is. That’s in part because the same amount of cannabis can affect two different people very differently.

This lack of standardized breath testing can also be a problem for those who aren’t driving impaired. That’s because THC (the ingredient in marijuana that gives people their “high”) can be present in a person’s blood long after any effects of the drug have worn off.

New law enforcement tools are steadily emerging

Some of the tools being tried resemble a dementia test rather than a breath test. One Montgomery County state senator has introduced a bill that would facilitate the trial use of these tools.  The proposed legislation would allow companies to partner with the local police department to test various devices designed to measure impairment.

One such device, which looks like an iPad with a joystick, is used to give a short test (about two minutes) that measures reaction time, perception and problem-solving. This device has been approved by the FDA but isn’t yet approved for official use outside of a trial phase, where the results aren’t admissible as evidence of impaired driving.

As with any field sobriety test, some people may naturally perform better than others on a mobile cognitive test, regardless of whether they’re impaired by alcohol or drugs or not, and there can always be other factors that affect the results. That’s why drivers have a right to challenge the results of any tests they’re given by law enforcement. Having sound legal guidance can help.