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17 Jun, 2014 09:02

Canadians invent weed breathalyzer to catch drivers

Canadians invent weed breathalyzer to catch drivers

Smoking marijuana and driving will now make you just as visible to the police as a drunk-driver, thanks to a former Canadian cop’s idea – the weed breathalyzer. He believes only fear of punishment will get Canadians to readjust their attitude.

Canada is known for its liberal attitudes towards the recreational use of marijuana, and that’s something Kal Malhi, the former Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) officer who worked in the drug enforcement division for four years, hopes to change.

While the effects of weed and alcohol are indeed very different, its creators Malhi and Vancouver radiologist Dr. Raj Attariwala try to see beyond that. “The biggest wrecks that come through a hospital”, Attariwala told CTV, are those whose driving was impaired at the time. And “as engineers, we’re always trying to make the world a little bit better,” he explains.

Some Canadians are understandably outraged at the news, seeing as for years, weed has been outclassed by alcohol in a number of ways relating to how it affects the health and personality of the user. Despite this, a 2011 study in the BC Medical Journal does suggest that the plant, “like alcohol, impairs the psychomotor skills required for safe driving. Cannabis intoxication slows reaction time and impairs automated tasks such as tracking ability (staying within a lane) or monitoring the speedometer.”

Cannabix Breathalyzer. Screenshot courtesy CTV News, 2014

The work Malhi and Attariwala are doing also goes a long way toward making it easier for the police to do its job, since there was virtually no way of knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt whether a driver had been using at that precise moment, or yesterday.

The force currently relies on saliva, blood and urine samples to ascertain whether the driver has been using, but these can’t lead to a criminal prosecution because the plant stays in the blood system for several days, making it difficult to make a legal case for drug-driving; whereas the pair’s creation will test for use within the two preceding hours.

Usually, the most a driver will get if they have very obviously been smoking weed behind the wheel is a 24-hour roadside suspension. That is the problem, according to Malhi.

"People are becoming very afraid to drink and drive nowadays because they feel that they will get caught and charged, but they’re not afraid to drug and drive because they don't feel that law enforcement will do anything about it," he explained to CTV.

The Cannabix Breathalyzer’s detection abilities will make it a much more effective tool in this regard. It still has to undergo field tests and a patent is still pending, but Malhi and Attariwala hope to present their creation to the minister of justice and all other relevant authorities within the following 18 months.

Malhi says the device will also come in handy off the road, especially in workplaces with mandatory drug tests.