Michigan Plans to Launch Roadside Drug Testing Pilot

Drug tests are notoriously inaccurate, but that doesn't stop them

Michigan Governor Rick Snyder recently signed a law approving a roadside drug testing program with the intention of busting “stoned drivers” or drivers under the influence of marijuana and other illegal substances. This pilot program is intended to go into action sometime this year in five counties across Michigan—in spite of the fact that there is no fool-proof method of effective drug testing. 

For the next year under the pilot program, officers operating under their personal discretion will be stopping drivers “suspected” of being under the influence of marijuana, heroin, or cocaine. Saliva tests will be administered with the help of Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) officers. If the results are positive, drivers will be taken to jail and charged with driving under the influence.

Each year, thousands of people are being sent to jail as the result of notoriously fallible two-dollar drug tests. 

This pilot may inspire fear in Michigan locals, where medicinal marijuana is legal. Due to the nature of how marijuana is metabolized, a driver could test positive for use that occurred days, or even weeks, prior to the test. Michigan officials assure the public that it will use the tests only when there is “probable cause.” This is less than fully reassuring. Subjective probable cause could easily lead to an arrest of someone who took a hit of a joint a few days prior and was driving poorly due to extraneous factors, like perhaps being late to an important meeting.

Each year, thousands of people are being sent to jail as the result of notoriously fallible two-dollar drug tests. A ProPublica investigation revealed that popular and routinely used “Scott” drug test kits—with tests presenting false positives, officers misreading tests, and other factors—were at the center of Houston’s influx of wrongly convicted individuals for drug use .    

The creator and owner of the Scott test kit said himself, “No field test is fail safe...any field test can give you an erroneous result, even if you run two or three field tests in a row. You have to do that in a sequence and you can get greater reliability using that technique. But it burns up tests, it burns up time, and it puts an officer in the role of a chemist. The result you get would be more reliable than a single test, but it’s still not conclusive.”

Cannabix is attempting to develop an accurate “marijuana breathalyzer” capable of distinguishing the time of substance use and narrowing it to within two hours of the test administration. A more accurate, time-constrained device would be more effective than current methods and might reduce the chances of Michigan citizens who are legally prescribed medicinal marijuana ending up behind bars.

Regardless of the evidence suggesting drug-test unreliability, the pilot is expected to go into full swing shortly.