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New spit test could identify marijuana intoxication in drivers

The first practical roadside test with the capability to identify motorists who may be driving under the influence of marijuana is in the works, and it could potentially impact drivers in New York and elsewhere across the country soon. Researchers at Stanford University are combining magnetic nanotechnology with a time-tested biochemical technique in order to develop a device that could measure a driver's marijuana intoxication during a traffic stop as effectively as a Breathalyzer might measure alcohol intoxication in the field.

The Potalyzer is designed to detect concentrations of THC in saliva. The test, which can be easily administered on-the-spot by law enforcement officials, takes approximately three minutes to complete, and the results can be immediately read by an officer at the scene on a laptop or smartphone. Until now, marijuana's most potent psychoactive agent, THC, has commonly been detected in blood or urine through a screening process conducted in a lab.

At the time of this writing, there is no consensus among states regarding a set limit for THC concentration in a driver's body. According to studies, marijuana intoxication could be indicated by a reading between 2 and 25 ng/mL, and handling a cutoff in this range is well within the capability of the groundbreaking new device.

Before the Potalyzer can be used by police, it will first have to be put through field tests and gain the approval of regulators. States must also pass laws setting the allowable limit of THC concentration in a driver's saliva. Until then, other types of roadside tests are more likely to lead to a drunk driving charge, and motorists who are taken into police custody for allegedly driving while intoxicated may find it beneficial to discuss the particulars of their unique situation with a criminal defense lawyer.

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