WSU Ends Development of Marijuana Breath Test, Fearing Backlash

Washington State University researchers are stopping their development of a marijuana breath test for fear of backlash from the Trump administration. Researchers had hoped the breathalyzer would help police officers detect THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. This would allow law enforcement to test the intoxication of drivers under the influence of pot.

“For this to be effective, we need to be able to test on real people,” said Nicholas Lovrich, WSU regents professor emeritus of political science. “Unfortunately, that’s just not possible right now. It’s too much risk to the university.”

Due to the way THC is metabolized in the body, researchers need to test subjects in an authentic setting to develop a more field-friendly breathalyzer. While some devices can detect the chemical compounds on the breath, they are too large to fit into a police car.

The project, which began in 2010, ended due to concerns that WSU would lose federal funding. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded a trio of memos from the Obama administration that had adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws. The move essentially shifted federal policy from the hands-off approach to allowing federal prosecutors to decide individually how to prioritize resources to crack down on marijuana possession, distribution and cultivation of the drug in states where it is currently legal.

Lovrich says the university denied his proposal for continued research in conjunction with the University of Massachusetts after an assistant attorney general expressed concerns about the school’s liability.

The WSU chemistry department has developed a tongue swab that can detect THC within the body. This research is able to continue, only because researchers can create saliva in the lab and add THC compounds to it without testing on live subjects.

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