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Police departments in more than a dozen states are already using a mouth-swab device to confirm the presence of marijuana or other drugs in impaired drivers, and with the legalization of marijuana, more departments are expected to make use of the device.

The Los Angeles Times reports that two $6,000 Dräger DrugTest 5000 machines were donated to the San Diego Police Department by the San Diego Police Foundation last week, and the department planned to debut the machines Friday night at a St. Patrick’s Day DUI checkpoint in downtown San Diego.


The machine, which is about the size of a mini bookshelf stereo system, is able to test for the presence of marijuana, cocaine, opiates, methamphetamine, amphetamine, methadone and benzodiazepines, according to the Times. But although the machine can test for the presence of those seven drugs, it does not have the ability to read the level of intoxication, so drivers would still have to take a blood test for that information.

At a press conference Thursday, San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman said, “It’s a huge concern of ours with the legalization of marijuana that we’re going to see an increase in impaired drugged driving.”


California voters passed Proposition 64 in November, which legalizes the use and cultivation of recreational marijuana.

From the Times:

To prepare for the effects of the law, a team of San Diego narcotics officers went to Denver to learn how Colorado has fared since recreational marijuana was legalized there and found that the region has seen an uptick in drugged driving, Zimmerman said. The numbers have been growing in California as well.

In 2014, 38% of drivers who were killed in motor vehicle crashes in California tested positive for drugs, whether legal or illegal, according to the state Office of Highway Safety. That’s up from 32% the year before.


Drivers cannot be forced to submit to a field drug test, but if they refuse and there is ample suspicion of drug use, the officer can force the person to submit to a blood test.

According to the Times, the machine only looks for the active THC that is responsible for the high, and not the inactive THC compounds that can stay in a person’s system for weeks. This means that someone who legally smoked marijuana a few days prior would have nothing to worry about.


In California, there is currently no legal threshold for the amount of drugs in a person’s system when it comes to driving.

Read more at the Los Angeles Times.

News Editor for The Root. I said what I said. Period.

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