WHEAT RIDGE, Colo. - A Wheat Ridge company has a $250,000 grant from the state of Colorado to create the first breathalyzer to detect marijuana on an impaired driver's breath.
The challenge for Lifeloc Technologies is to come up with a device that detects only Delta-9 THC, which is the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.
"That's the substance that makes you feel high," said Lifeloc Technologies CEO Barry Knott. "Most of the tests on the market today only detect metabolites of marijuana, which are of little interest to law enforcement because they're not psychoactive."
Knott's company was awarded $250,000 from the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade to develop a breathalyzer for pot.
He said the grant would be paid out of three years and requires his company to contribute twice as much to development.
"We're in a race with ourselves to do this. As far as we know there's nobody else as far along in this," said Knott.
He said he's aware of other companies working on tests to check saliva, but feels those don't isolate THC, the part of marijuana that impairs judgment.
"Because it remains in the body for such a short time after smoking or ingesting, perhaps no more than two hours, it's important that we find a way to give law enforcement a tool to detect that at roadside," said Knott.
Colorado lawmakers passed a law creating a marijuana threshold for driving under the influence, similar to .08 blood alcohol content level. Having at least five nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood would result in a DUI for marijuana use.
According to the Colorado State Patrol, which started tracking marijuana DUI as its own statistic just this year, 255 citations have been issued for marijuana DUI through September. That statistic is only for roads patrolled by CSP.
There have been 4,177 total DUI-drug citations by CSP in 2014. That means six percent of all DUI-drug citations were because of marijuana alone.
CSP also recorded 156 citations for marijuana use with alcohol. There are 86 citations through September for marijuana use with other drug use at the same time.
Lifeloc Technologies hopes to have a marijuana breathalyzer prototype by late 2015.