Colorado

Jan 7, 2014 12:40 AM by Maddie Garrett

Toxicologists: Science lags in marijuana testing

Toxicologists report that we're still 10 years away from getting faster, more accurate tests when it comes to measuring marijuana in your system. Some drug testing experts even said Colorado moved too quickly in legalizing it.

On one side of the issue, there will be challenges when it comes to proving when someone ingested marijuana, and standardizing impairment levels.

On the other side, police said they will still identify and arrest people for impairment, despite any lags in science.

DUI Enforcement Officer Glenn Thomas with Colorado Springs Police, said legalized marijuana won't change how he or any other officers handle DUI's.

"Whether it's alcohol or some other drug, whether it's legal or illegal, all we look for is impairment to the slightest degree," he said.

But after the arrest, there is a gray area.

"People can challenge the DUI rulings," explained Jo Mcguire with Conspire drug testing. "It's very difficult to know when someone actually ingested it and look at the level that you have in their system."

McGuire said first and foremost, there's no way to tell exactly when someone ingested marijuana. And unlike alcohol, there is no standard on how many nannograms of THC, the psychoactive component, means a certain level of impairment.

"If that person constantly maintains a certain amount of THC in their system, do they function at that level or not? And there's a lot of controversy around that and the science is still way behind," said McGuire.

Marijuana metabolizes at different rates for every person, depending on size, body fat, frequency of use, and how high in THC that strain of cannabis is.

"So if you're using for instance a urine drug test it could be 24 to 48 hours before you even see the substance that was ingested," said McGuire.

When using urine tests, marijuana can show up in your system for days, weeks even months before it completely leaves your body, because everyone processes it differently.

Blood tests aren't much more accurate, with only about an hour window before traces of marijuana leave your blood stream.

"There is a metabolite that can be captured in the blood but it has to be captured very quickly," said McGuire.

She said in her opinion, lawmakers put the "horse before the cart" when it comes to legalizing marijuana and the amount of research that still needs to be done on it.

"We know alcohol leaves your system at 1.5 liters per hour, that's how you eliminate it. We don't have those rates for marijuana," she responded.

But for police officers like Thomas, that doesn't matter when it comes to getting behind the wheel. All they have to prove is that the person appears impaired.

"The thing about marijuana is that marijuana doesn't have the regulations that alcohol has, so with marijuana there's no telling how long you're going to be impaired by that particular drug," he said. "That simply means that we have to do the job the same way."

McGuire said getting standardized regulations, similar to what we have with blood alcohol levels, are still years away. She predicts saliva tests will be the next step, but those are still in the trial stages.

Officer Thomas explained that while field tests for marijuana would be another useful tool, in the State of Colorado those tests, just like breathalyzer results, would not be permissible in court.

 

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