The concern for safety regarding stoned driving is among the issues facing states in which cannabis has been legalized. Canary, a new smartphone app, aims to help cannabis users determine whether they are fit to get behind the wheel.
The trouble that cannabis presents for traffic officers stems from its defiance of current DUI criteria, which were developed to prevent alcohol-related motor vehicle accidents and depend heavily on quantitative breathalyzer tests as the standard for intoxication. Unlike alcohol, cannabis cannot be readily detected in a driver’s system during a roadside stop, making it difficult for police to prove a driver is too impaired to be on the road.
Though a handful of companies are working to develop a breathalyzer to accurately detect THC levels in drivers, most authorities agree that measuring THC will not be enough to assess impairment. That is because detectable levels of THC stay in the body long after the high, along with its impairing effects, has faded. What is more, the degree of intoxication that individuals experience as a result of using cannabis can vary widely from one person to the next, meaning that if two drivers are given the same amount of cannabis, one may easily pass field sobriety tests while the other unequivocally fails.
Cannabis advocates and public safety agencies agree that enforcement policies cannot rely on objective tests alone. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s website states: “It is inadvisable to try and predict effects based on blood THC concentrations alone,” and “It is difficult to establish a relationship between a person’s THC blood or plasma concentration and performance impairing effects.”
According to Emily Paxhia of Poseidon Asset Management, a Cannabis investment fund that has given $250,000 to develop a THC breathalyzer,
“If there is a detector out there and there is not proof that THC levels are attached to impairment, it could end up putting more people in prison, which is not what we want.”
At present, however, concerns about strict adherence to tests such as urine, hair and breath analysis to successfully prosecute DUI cases against cannabis users under the influence are premature; roadside urine and blood tests are logistically impractical, and according to companies working to bring THC breathalyzers to market, it will likely be 10 years before the instruments are deployed in police cruisers.
That is where Canary comes in. The app’s creator, Marc Silverman, reported,
“Drug tests such as urinalyses or blood tests are retrospective….The best those tests can do is assess lifestyle: Did you consume pot at some time? It has absolutely no impact on whether you can perform.”
Rather than rely on the incomplete and misleading data from blood, hair or urine measurements, the Canary app collects information about six motor and cognitive abilities that indicate a person’s fitness to drive. Parameters include time perception, memory, balance and reaction time. Upon repeated attempts at the challenges while unimpaired, users establish a baseline against which they can gauge their driving ability after they have taken cannabis.
Though the logic of such an app may not apply to chronic users of cannabis, whose baseline scores may reflect a condition that law enforcement would regard as unacceptable for driving, for the majority of cannabis users, Silverman has created a means to responsibly reconcile their cannabis use and the way it affects their driving ability.
Silverman is quick to point out that his invention is not intended to solve law enforcement’s problems in determining DUI as a result of THC intoxication. He said,
“I wouldn’t feel comfortable allowing for law enforcement to use it.”
The inspiration for the name of the app comes from the phrase “a canary in a coal mine.” Silverman hopes cannabis users will employ Canary in the manner the app’s name suggests. He wants them to avoid problems with police and other motorists before they happen by turning back before it is too late.