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When Amendment 64 passed many detractors voiced concerns about people driving while using marijuana and the risks that may present.
Wheat Ridge’s Lifeloc Technologies aims to solve that problem by designing the first breathalyzer to detect marijuana on a person’s breath.
“We watched the marijuana issue with interest and anticipated that something like this was going to be a necessity for law enforcement and others,” said Lifeloc president and CEO Barry Knott. “The problem is it’s almost impossible on the roadside to prove a driver has THC in their system.”
The company is getting some funding help in the form of $250,000 from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade to help develop the device.
According to G. “Ravi” Ravishankar, executive vice president of Lifeloc, the trick is creating a device that detects only Delta-9 THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
“Our goal is to accelerate this and get it done quickly,” Ravishankar said. “The quandary is dealing with people who use it for medical reasons versus recreational. Our approach is that we want to be able to detect it and then it’s up to city councils and legislatures to decide what the level of danger is.”
State lawmakers passed a law stating the threshold for driving under the influence, similar to .08 blood alcohol content level, is five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood.
Knott said the only real way for law enforcement to test for THC currently is a blood test, but that takes a long time and is expensive. He said police are looking for a real-time, non-invasive way to test for the drug that will be supported in courts of law.
Law enforcement is one of the top customers for this kind of device, but workplaces that may want to test their employees for the drug are also a potential customer base, according to Knott.
“Since marijuana has been illegal for so long, there isn’t a lot of research on how it works on people’s systems,” Ravishankar said.
Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, said the group is in support of accurate testing for those pulled over on suspicion of driving with THC in their system.
“We want to ensure that people are not driving impaired and those who are punished are proved to be impaired,” he said.
The entirety of Lifeloc’s operations are in its Wheat Ridge location, and Knott and Ravishankar said that many of their 35 employees will work on the project at one point or another. At the same time they are working on the marijuana breathalyzer they’re fine tuning their alcohol breathalyzers for customers like the Wheat Ridge Police Department, Arapahoe House, and other state law enforcement offices. They also ship to 65 other countries.
Lifeloc aims to have a prototype of the breathalyzer by late 2015 and a commercial version by 2016.
For more information visit www.lifeloc.com.
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