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Good Question: Is a new weed breathalyzer coming to New York?

Brennan Somers
Updated: January 28, 2020 06:41 AM
Created: January 27, 2020 08:20 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — We've been talking a lot about marijuana and the push to make it legal for recreational use in New York state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo detailed his plan in the budget proposal.

Now we're hearing from a company ready to do business with the state, but it won't be selling pot.

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News10NBC’s Brennan Somers looked into this issue for a Good Question report.

If and when pot is legalized in New York, more people will be smoking it and more people will be driving high.

Up until this point, there's been no way to determine if someone has recently ingested THC, but that’s changing thanks to a new marijuana breathalyzer.

Once you get past alcohol, federal research shows marijuana is the drug most often found in the blood of drivers involved in a crash. The fear among law enforcement is that will only get worse as more states legalize weed for recreational use.

That could change with the first-ever weed breathalyzer, which is one billion times more sensitive than an alcohol breathalyzer.

Dr. Mike Lynn says it's much like a dog's nose, which inspired the company's name Hound Labs. The group eventually wants to bring it to New York.

Your breath is collected in a cartridge for analysis. Ten minutes later, you get results.

“I mean, it's kind of common sense, we don't want our airline pilot to take a bong hit and get in the cockpit, right?” Lynn told NBC News. “We certainly don't want people to smoke pot and get behind the wheel of a 4,000-pound vehicle.”

Authorities can currently test for pot using blood, urine, or hair samples, but you can't tell if someone recently used marijuana unless you test their breath.

We went to Livingston County to speak with Sheriff Tom Dougherty. He walked Brennan through how they test for high drivers right now, and it's a long process.

“The deputy roadside puts you through field tests just like alcohol,” Dougherty explained. “If they feel that you are impaired, meaning that you cannot safely operate that vehicle, they make the arrest, then they call for a DRE.”

Those are drug experts. They have nine DREs across the county. If they think you're driving while high, you'll be asked to give a urine or blood sample.

“If they do provide it, it goes off to a lab the lab," Dougherty said. "The lab then determine if there's THC in the blood, if there's cocaine, heroin, meth, etc. When that comes back, then the determination is, it's solely basically on the DRE, that they saw was impairment and the lab analysis backs that up.”

There's still a lot to figure out. Alcohol has a 0.08 legal limit. There’s no agreement on what the legal limit should be for marijuana. 

The Hound Labs device will cost several thousand dollars. Brennan asked the company if it has plans to do business in New York, and a company spokesperson issued the following statement:

"We are in the late stages of manufacturing our products and expect to have the first units available for a select set of charter customers from a wide variety of locations and industries available in late Q1. Given Governor Cuomo's recent pledge to legalize adult recreational use of marijuana this year, we expect to engage with NY police agencies in the very near future."

If you have a question you'd like answered, send Brennan an email to GoodQuestion@whec.com.


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