Cannabis breathalyzers Imminent

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Dispatches from the Highlands

Marijuana news from contributing authors and staff writers on the latest in marijuana and medical marijuana

December 4, 2016
Denver, CO

Just as with the proliferation of breathalyzers in the alcohol industry, a marijuana breathalyzer could go a long ways towards subduing concerns from legislators and law enforcement agencies about the widespread use, let alone total legalization of marijuana. It's an especially pertinent issue for states like Alaska, Oregon and Washington DC, where legalization of recreational marijuana is up for vote in November. This is legislation that has strong tailwinds too, like an estimated $40M in tax revenue expected if Oregonians approve the measure there.

A publication in the journal Clinical Chemistry from 2012 (Cannabis Effects on Driving Skills), which looked at brain chemistry and driving under the influence of THC (the psychoactive component of marijuana that causes intoxication), indicated that blood concentrations of 5 nanograms per milliliter was sufficient to produce substantial driving impairment, particularly in occasional smokers. With more states moving in the direction of open legalization, cross-border intoxicated drivers could also become an issue. As companies like American Green, Inc. (OTC:ERBB) are rolling out marijuana vending machines, it is likely starting to dawn on legislators that the THC genie is out of the bottle, and an intelligent response in coordination with law enforcement officials is needed. Employers must also adapt to the changing tides, but stand to benefit in terms of employee good faith and retention if they can implement more reasonable spot checks using a marijuana breathalyzer, as opposed to more invasive urine testing that analyzes a much longer period of time.

While some debate still remains regarding impairment and different levels of THC (5ng/ml in Colorado and Washington), National Institute on Drug Abuse data shows that THC ranks second after alcohol in the blood of impaired drivers, as well as crash victims and auto fatalities. A report out of Columbia University this year points to over a decade's worth of data from six states where routine toxicological testing on drivers in fatal car crashes indicates a sharp, three-fold rise in non-alcohol drugs detected among drivers who tested positive for marijuana, suggesting drugged driving may be playing a growing role in vehicular fatalities. Currently, U.S. law enforcement still relies heavily on difficult to scale solutions like the Drug Recognition Expert Program (around 200 currently active DREs, 51 under Colorado State Patrol), which specially trains officers to recognize drug impairment.

Cannabix Breathalyzer - A Disruptive Technology

The existence of a marijuana breathalyzer is quite possibly the next major step towards normalization of more widespread marijuana use being allowed as such a device would offer a ready means of addressing key sticking points that have kept industry, legislators and law enforcement from agreeing on how best to regulate cannabis. It's a matter which grows more pressing by the day, with marijuana now legal for medical use in 23 U.S. states including DC and a market of around $1.5B in 2013 that is pegged to jump 73% this year to around $2.6B. Stack those figures up against Health Canada revenue estimates indicating that the Canadian commercial marijuana market could grow to over C$1.3B within the next decade on the backs of some 450k plus users and you have a target-rich market emerging in North America that is ripe for the advent of a pot breathalyzer.

Cannabix Technologies, Inc. (BLOZF) (CSE:BLO), previously known as West Point Resources, is ready to do for the cannabis industry what breathalyzers did for the recession-resistant alcohol industry, using cannabis breathalyzer technology researched in Sweden that was shown in clinical testing to successfully detect recent THC consumption. The company was started by a 10-year veteran of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police turned entrepreneur, Kal Malhi (four of those years in marijuana enforcement), who saw the lack of tools available to law enforcement for keeping the streets safe as MMJ legislation became more and more prevalent. Malhi started the company alongside Dr. Raj Attariwala (MD, PhD, FRCPC, FANM), a U.S. and Canada certified radiologist and nuclear medicine specialist with a doctorate in biomedical engineering. Cannabix has moved rapidly towards a commercial device based on their technology and currently stands poised to deliver a fast-tracked prototype via fellow B.C. engineering company and experienced rapid prototyping shop, KLN Klein Product Development, under a project which will be overseen Dr. Attariwala and the Cannabix engineering team.

Breathalyzer - An Attractive Alternative To Invasive Testing

In stark contrast to blood or urine testing, which can produce a positive detection result even if a regular user hasn't consumed any THC for a period of around 1 to 7 days in the case of blood, or around 1 to as many as 30 days in the case of urine, the Cannabix Marijuana Breathalyzer only looks to see if THC has been in the lungs within the preceding 2 hours. Saliva testing, while much easier to execute in a roadside screening/law enforcement application than blood or urine testing, can still detect marijuana for as many as 72 hours after consumption (according to Forensic Fluids) and the testing methodology bears inaccuracy problems, leading to false positives and difficulty in court trying to prosecute using such evidence. Additionally, these forms of testing require a DNA sample to be surrendered, creating a legal problem in and of itself, with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as well as U.S. 4th Amendment, providing serious procedural roadblocks. The inability of these forms of testing to conclusively determine intoxication or impairment at the time of testing has relegated their use to stop-gap measures at employers with zero-tolerance policies or in cases of a serious vehicular accident.

The Cannabix device tests for THC in a manner which is more consistent with the intent of intoxication laws and privacy rights in the U.S. and Canada, providing law enforcement with a handy way to screen drivers using a handheld roadside device. This patent-pending and potentially disruptive technology from such a small company with first mover advantage makes the B.C. headquartered Cannabix a stock worth watching closely in the burgeoning marijuana industry. While the emergence of an appropriately designed screening mechanism for law enforcement and workplace testing would be great news for licensed producers who can be assured of ready end-markets, like MMPR-licensed producers in Canada, Tweed, Inc. (TWMJF) (TSX-V:TWD) and Bedrocan Cannabis Corp. (OTC:BNRDF) (TSX-V:BED), the benefits to accelerating positive cannabis legislation could be even more attractive.

Roadside blood draws by law enforcement and other invasive methods of screening for THC intoxication, like zero-tolerance urine testing at the workplace, are increasingly impractical as medical and even recreational cannabis gain ground throughout North America. The Cannabix Breathalyzer system could be highly effective in combating marijuana abuse and making the workplace, as well as roadways, safer. The very existence of such a device in widespread usage essentially demands of users that they consume responsibly or face appropriately meted out testing and prosecution/punishment.

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