Oakland Company Develops Breathalyzer to Test for Marijuana

When recreational marijuana becomes legal across the Golden State in a matter of days, law enforcement officials and employers will eventually be able to use a tool to check if people are driving or working under the influence of weed. Pete Suratos reports.

(Published Tuesday, Dec. 19, 2017)

As the Golden State gears up for recreational marijuana use to become legal, law enforcement officials and employers will eventually be able to use a tool to check if people are driving or working under the influence of weed.

That's because an Oakland company is developing a breathalyzer to measure in parts per trillion how much THC — an active ingredient in marijuana — is in someone's breath.

The issue at hand for law enforcement officials and employers is how to tell if someone is actually under the influence of marijuana. A blood test doesn't give an accurate measurement because THC can stay in one's system for days, and simply smelling weed on someone is also not an accurate test because smoke can linger for hours.

Hound Labs created the breathalyzer in hopes of conquering those shortfalls. Dr. Mike Lynn, the company's CEO, says if THC appears in someone's breath, that means they've smoked within the past couple of hours and are more than likely impaired.

"It’s a huge technological and scientific challenge that we had to overcome," Lynn said. "It took us a few years to overcome but we figured it out and we can measure just a few particles of THC, so it’d be like measuring a few drops of water in a hundred swimming pools put together."

Lynn came up with the idea during his years working in the emergency department and as a reserve sheriff's deputy.

Hound Labs is in the process of testing its third and final version of the breathalyzer that is slated to go on the market during the second quarter of 2018.

The device will range in price anywhere from roughly $500 to $1,000. It will be available to law enforcement personnel and even the individual marijuana smoker.

Lynn says law enforcement agencies and employers interested in the device are calling everyday to learn more.