Assemblyman Lackey Stages 4/20 "Breathalyzer" Demonstration

SACRAMENTO 4/20 - Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) sponsored a demonstration of a new oral swab drug test in the State Capitol today. Lackey is sponsoring a bill, AB 1356, that would allow CA police to use the test as an alternative to urine or blood tests for DUI stops. The tests were misleadingly billed as "breathalyzers," although they can't actually measure impairment like the alcohol breathalyzer.

Proponents were careful to state that the tests would not be a per se indicator of impairment, and would be administered only AFTER a driver had been stopped for a traffic offense and taken a field sobriety test.

The test involves swabbing the subject's mouth for 3 minutes, then waiting 5 minutes more for the instrument to display results. MJ advocates were on hand to demonstrate the limitations of the test. An eminently sober-looking, clean-cut MMJ patient volunteered to take the test and showed up positive. Lackey offhandedly remarked that he would be arrested for DUI (assuming, of course, that there was enough evidence to stop him for bad driving in the first place?). Like current blood and urine tests, the oral swab test could not be used as per se proof of DUI, but could be cited as supporting evidence at trial that the suspect was under the influence of marijuana.

NORML does not necessarily oppose the use of oral swab tests as an alternative to blood or urine tests, so long as they are only used where there is valid reason to suspect DUI. However, NORML strongly opposes use of oral swab testing at random traffic stops or stops that don't involve bad driving, such as tail-light offenses. Police are already deploying oral swab tests at random stops in LA and elsehwere; drivers should be advised that they DO NOT have to submit to these tests. However, under AB 1356, they could be obliged to take the test if they were stopped for an actual driving offense (or, if they failed to submit to the test, lose their driver's license).

Lackey warned that CA has seen an increase in "drugged driving," referring to recent road surveys that show an increase in drivers testing positive for drugs, specifically MJ. He didn't mention that there has been no concomitant increase in accident rates. Candice Lightner, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, was on hand to say that her organization does not necessarily oppose marijuana, but strongly opposes drugged driving. Lackey portrayed his bill as an appropriate measure to prepare for the likely legalization of marijuana in 2016.

Consumers should beware that oral swabs are about as accurate as blood tests, meaning that they can register positive for several hours to a day or two after last use in heavy users. The sensitivity of oral swab testing has not been well documented in scientific studies, nor did proponents provide data on the sensitivity of the test that was demonstrated.

- Dale Gieringer, Cal NORML

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