(published in February 2020)
In a conference room at the Roundhouse last week, uniformed police officers were watching a demonstration.
They were learning about a handheld device that detects drugs in a person’s system within five minutes. It’s intended to be used by officers on the road when they have pulled over a driver. It comes with a separate module to collect saliva from the inside of the driver’s cheek and a little printer that prints out the test results.
The product brochure says the device detects amphetamines, cannabis, opiates, cocaine, methamphetamine and benzodiazepines (drugs like Valium and Xanax).
The demonstrator handed me the printout from a demonstration test result, a strip of paper about the size of a gas station receipt.
In the debate about legalizing recreational cannabis, this is a game changer. If it works as claimed, this might solve the problem of detecting whether someone’s impaired driving is related to drug use.
The device, the So Toxa Mobile Test System, is not the only roadside marijuana tester on the market. Others work like breathalyzers; some only detect cannabis, not other drugs.
It may not be sufficient for legal purposes. It doesn’t measure the quantity present in the person’s system. And it can’t tell how long ago the drug was ingested, although the demonstrator said it only detects drugs used within the last few hours. If that works as intended, it solves the problem posed by blood or urine tests, which detect cannabis days after it’s been ingested.
A device like this might also be applied to workplace safety, either to test workers after an accident or to do random testing of active workers. That was not discussed in this demonstration.
Nobody mentioned the question of false positives, either. It’s been found that eating poppy seeds on pastry can cause a positive test for opiates.
The development of these devices is a big step toward making legalization practical. However, there are still serious issues that need to be resolved.
We still don’t have agreement on how distribution and sales will be regulated and taxed, or how cannabis will be effectively kept away from children. I repeat, effectively.
If we don’t do this right, New Mexico might unintentionally create some sort of quasi-monopoly just as bad as our nutty liquor license system, or even worse, open the door to international corporations who are waiting for movement on the federal level. If that happens, most of the revenue that legislators are so excited about will not stay in New Mexico.
Nobody is talking about who is going to pay these mythical cannabis taxes that will line New Mexico streets with gold. Mostly low-income New Mexicans, I suspect – not a new stream of tourists. The governor says cannabis will generate $620 million annually in revenue and $100 million in taxes. Just like gambling, it’s another way to tempt poor people to become a little poorer.
Certainly New Mexico will be better off if New Mexicans buy drugs from legitimate taxpaying businesses rather than criminal cartels, who don’t pay gross receipts tax or test their products for purity.
And of course it will be better if New Mexicans use more cannabis instead of much more dangerous drugs like meth and opioids. That is the best reason for making it legal.
I have previously said I like the proposal for state-run stores that will keep the money in-state and prevent sales to children. That deserves further discussion.
Every time a complex issue like this is run through the legislative process, more details get examined and there’s another chance that the legislation will be improved. Legalizing cannabis is a big deal. There’s nothing wrong with shaking it out through the process another time or two before it passes.
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