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Is a reliable roadside test for marijuana on the horizon?

While there won’t be any marijuana-related initiatives on the ballot here in Texas on Election Day 2016, voters in at least nine other states will be called on to decide whether the drug should be legalized for medicinal or recreational use.

As much as we might prefer to think otherwise, this reality -- coupled with the fact that over 20 states already permit marijuana use to varying degrees -- means that there are inevitably going to be more drug-impaired motorists out on the roads and highways. Making matters worse, law enforcement officials are currently lacking a roadside test for marijuana intoxication that is on par with the otherwise reliable breathalyzer test, which measures blood alcohol content.

Do stoned drivers pose an elevated accident risk?

While this matter is still being debated, the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that when drivers with elevated THC levels -- the active ingredient in marijuana -- are involved in car crashes, they are anywhere from three to seven times more likely to be found liable for the accident than their sober counterparts.

Do law enforcement officials really have no effective way to determine whether drivers are under the influence of marijuana?

Currently, the only viable tests for law enforcement to screen drivers for pot intoxication are urine or blood tests, neither of which is helpful for officers in the field.

Are there any efforts to change this?

Researchers at Stanford University have developed a potential solution, known as the "potalyzer," which relies on magnetic nanotechnology.

Specifically, the potalyzer allows an officer with reasonable suspicion of a motorist driving under the influence of marijuana to take a saliva sample via cotton swab and test it on a mobile device (smartphone or laptop), which uses magnetic biosensors to detect the presence of THC molecules in roughly three minutes.

Is it accurate?

Stanford researchers indicate that the potalyzer can detect THC concentrations anywhere within the range of 0 to 50 nanograms per milliliter of saliva, which is well within most existing measures of impairment.

Is it going to be rolled out soon?    

The potalyzer still has to undergo further refinements and would then need to undergo multiple rounds of testing by regulators before it could be rolled out to law enforcement. Even then, lawmakers in many would also likely need to take steps to pass laws establishing a THC threshold for motorists.  

It's highly encouraging to see progress being made on this front. In the meantime, if you suffer serious personal injuries or lose a loved one because of the actions of an impaired driver, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.

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