With recreational cannabis legal in California, state leaders are taking another stab at testing the saliva of people suspected of driving under the influence of marijuana.
Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, this week introduced a bill that would let law enforcement officers take a spit swab from drivers who’ve failed field sobriety tests. Portable instruments promise to detect the presence of pot and other drugs within minutes, telling officers whether they should potentially let the driver go free or take them to the station for a blood test and possible arrest.
“Driving is the most dangerous thing we do,” Lackey said Wednesday. “Using new technology to… get stoned drivers off the road is something we need to embrace.”
Swab tests are widely used on drivers in the United Kingdom, but the process remains controversial.
There’s no clear impairment threshold with marijuana as there is with alcohol. Also, critics argue that the roadside testing device is still experimental, citing studies that show the tests are least effective at detecting impairment, in part because marijuana stays in a person’s system long after its effects have worn off.
That lack of reliability – coupled with the high cost for a test that would only establish probable cause rather than clear proof of impairment – were concerns raised when similar legislation was analyzed in the past.
Lackey, a former California Highway Patrol officer who represents portions of Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Kern counties, proposed a nearly identical bill in 2015. And State Sen. Bob Huff, R-San Dimas, pushed similar legislation earlier this year. Both bills died in committee.
Lackey is hoping to succeed this time, noting an increased sense of urgency now that Proposition 64 has passed making pot legal for adults.
The ballot measure dedicates tax revenue from pot sales to help universities and the CHP develop better roadside tests. But Lackey, who opposed Prop. 64, said California can’t wait that long to take action.
“I’ve seen the tragedy that results from impaired driving,” he said. “I feel like I have a responsibility to be the voice on this issue.”
Lackey’s bill is expected to be up for a vote in early 2017.