Law enforcement agencies in Canada and the U.S. have in recent years made tremendous strides in reducing the incidence of drunk driving and they have been greatly aided by social advocacy groups, public awareness ad campaigns and, of course, roadside breathalyzer tests.
Now the same law enforcement agencies are facing a new challenge–nabbing drivers who are high on marijuana. With medical marijuana legal across Canada and in 23 U.S. states, and recreational use legal in Colorado and Washington, experts anticipate a lot more people will be getting behind the wheel after they’ve lit up or otherwise ingested the substance.
Unfortunately, there are currently no reliable roadside tests for marijuana consumption or impairment, but a small Vancouver-based company named Cannabix Technologies Inc. (CSE: BLO) (US OTC: BLOZF) hopes to be first to market with just such a device.
The company’s President is Kal Malhi, who happens to know a thing or two about the problem. Malhi spent 10 years as an RCMP officer in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, including four years with the drug squad, and he has surrounded himself with some impressive scientific and technical talent, including chief engineer Dr. Raj Attariwala, a radiologist and nuclear medicine physician.
Cannabix is currently developing a prototype for a roadside breathalyzer stemming from breath testing research conducted at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute. The research demonstrated that tiny particles of THC, the active and intoxicating component in marijuana, could be collected in samples of exhaled breath. Clinical trials were conducted with the National Institute of Drug Abuse in the U.S. and were published in 2010.
An effective breathalyzer would be an enormous improvement over the present methods of testing for marijuana consumption, namely the collection and analysis of saliva, urine or blood samples. All three are invasive, it takes too long to get the results and all three methods have other deficiencies. Urine tests, for example, can detect THC days or even weeks after the marijuana was smoked.
Breath testing for alcohol consumption is a non-invasive, long established and well accepted practice throughout North America and many other parts of the world and research has shown that breath samples can determine whether the marijuana had been consumed within a two hour period.
“One of the challenges is to have a device that can provide an on the spot result so the police can proceed with further testing,” according to Rav Mlait, Cannabix’s chief executive officer. “The nut to crack is to provide an instant reading and to develop a durable device that can withstand the rigors of police use.”
Mlait says that Cannabix has developed breath-testing technology that would provide near instantaneous results and the company has patents pending on its device in both Canada and the U.S.
Meantime, Cannabix is working with an outside engineering firm–KLN Klein Product Development of Vancouver–to build a prototype of a hand-held device that can be used at roadside to detect if THC was consumed within a two-hour window.
“We are working to have our prototype completed as soon as possible” says Mlait.
From there, the company intends to conduct its own trials and then it will conduct clinical trials either with or under the auspices of the National Institute of Drug Abuse. Once the technology has been proven, Cannabix will begin marketing and the potential market is huge.
It is currently illegal in all 50 states to drive while impaired by any controlled substance, including marijuana. Eleven states, including Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Georgia, have zero tolerance laws on the books, meaning motorists can be convicted of impaired driving if they have any amount of THC in their system.
Six states–Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado among them–have so called per se laws in which they have defined the legal limits and those range from one to five nanograms (a billionth of a gram) per milliliter of blood. The other 33 states have effect-based laws in which prosecutors must prove that impairment was caused by marijuana consumption.
“We’ll be targeting the zero-based states first,” says Mlait.
The market for effective hand-held, roadside devices are significant, he says, but Mlait also foresees other sales opportunities that could be even bigger as legalization and decriminalization of marijuana becomes ever more prevalent in North America.
“What could be just as exciting is the potential use of this device in the workplace,” he says. “We’ve had interest from various sectors of industry who want a device like ours to test for safety purposes among their employees–whether they’re drill rig operators in the oil patch, or operating a forklift or any type of heavy machinery. Companies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars annually and sometimes millions on substance abuse programs and something like this is of keen interest to them. That will be another major market focus for Cannabix. ”
Cannabix Technologies Inc.
7934 Government Rd
Burnaby, BC, V5A 2E2
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