Colorado State Patrol troopers testing marijuana DUI devices

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LAKEWOOD, Colo.  -- The Colorado State Patrol is using marijuana DUI devices as part of a three-year pilot program.

Since March, more than 125 troopers have been equipped with one of five types of an oral fluid tester that sample a driver’s saliva for the presence of drugs, including marijuana.

“It would be nice to have that additional evidence on the side of the road,” CSP Major Steve Garcia said.

Troopers can perform roadside sobriety tests and seek a blood test, but much like a Breathalyzer for alcohol use, investigators would like a roadside device to give troopers probable cause to make an arrest.

“It would confirm or deny the officer's investigation that the suspect would be under the influence of marijuana or other drugs," Garcia said.

Under the pilot program, drivers have to consent to have the inside of their cheeks swabbed for saliva. The device then takes about five minutes to deliver an electronic readout, evaluating the presence of several narcotics, including marijuana.

Garcia said the legalization of marijuana has increased the need to stop drivers who have more than 5 nanograms of THC in their system, which is Colorado’s legal threshold for impaired driving.

In the meantime, a Wheat Ridge lab is working on a marijuana Breathalyzer-type device thanks to a $250,000 grant from the state.

“It would be home run for any company that develops the technology,” said Barry Knot, CEO of Lifeloc Technologies. “The advantage of a Breathalyzer is that it provides virtually instantaneous feedback to the officer, so within a matter of seconds they can get an accurate determination of blood alcohol content."

But Knott admits the disadvantage of a Breathalyzer is that it only detects breath from a smoker and not someone who consumes an edible.

As for the saliva test, suspected drivers must consent and so far only 82 have.

“It hasn’t been used in court yet that we’re aware of, but we foresee that in the near future,” Garcia said.

CSP will evaluate the success of the oral testing devices in March, but the pilot program will continue for two more years.