Prohibition Hi-Tech Tool: Just Another Anti-Marijuana Silver Bullet?

The ever-informative Technology Review previews new handheld drug detection devices by Philips that can be employed by law enforcement (or potentially one’s employer) to detect the presence of banned or illicit substances in the human body, notably cannabis.

This is indeed bittersweet news as there are two likely policy outcomes. The first is that drivers will be subject to more and more roadside drug tests, however the secondary policy outcomes may provide some benefit for individuals and society: a) Current roadside testing is notoriously inaccurate and subject to challenge, b) Most testing today performed by law enforcement is urine or hair follicle testing (which only measures for inert metabolites from past drug use, not impairment or recent use), a roadside ‘sobriety’ test that can detect very recent cannabis use (within a few hours) narrows the window of personal liability and criminality, and c) Many law enforcement personnel will agree in debate that the social controls created by legalization and regulation is ideally preferred to the international chaos, potential harm caused to police and ineffectiveness of prohibition–but the one inch of ground few police will yield on is driving while impaired.

Dozens of law enforcement officials, from patrol officers to heads of state police departments to state Attorneys General, have told me that they can not become converts to reform absent an accurate roadside test like they currently have for alcohol (which is an interesting and awkward way of acknowledging that current roadside drug tests police often give drivers are problematic)

Maybe, in time, the subset of American society that most vociferously opposes ending cannabis prohibition–the law enforcement community–will come to be sated by the satisfaction that similar to alcohol-impaired drivers, they’ll be able to fairly and accurately detect cannabis-impaired drivers.

After all, ask yourself this: When have you ever seen police or their industry associations (ie, Chiefs of Police Association, Fraternal Order of Police, etc…) publicly lobby in favor of bringing back alcohol prohibition and re-criminalizing alcohol consumption?

Have these law enforcement trade groups funded and supported public campaigns against impaired or reckless driving? Sure, and all the power to them! But, propagandizing that the producers, sellers and  consumers of the very dangerous drug alcohol (or for that matter, pharmaceuticals)  be considered common criminals, and a threat to society?

No. Americans will not (hopefully) ever see police and their trade groups seeking to re-vilify alcohol products.

What will it take to get the law enforcement community to finally support cannabis law reforms?

Our bittersweet friend…technology.

Device Offers a Roadside Dope Test
The system uses magnetic nanoparticles to detect traces of cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and methamphetamine.
By Alexander Gelfand
Later this year, Philips will introduce a handheld electronic device that uses magnetic nanoparticles to screen for five major recreational drugs.
The device is intended for roadside use by law enforcement agencies and includes a disposable plastic cartridge and a handheld analyzer. The cartridge has two components: a sample collector for gathering saliva and a measurement chamber containing magnetic nanoparticles. The particles are coated with ligands that bind to one of five different drug groups: cocaine, heroin, cannabis, amphetamine, and methamphetamine.
Philips began investigating the possibility of building a magnetic biodetector in 2001, two years after a team of researchers at the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in Washington, DC, first used magnetic sensors similar to those employed in hard drives to sniff out certain biowarfare agents. The NRL scientists labeled biological molecules designed to bind to target agents with magnetic microbeads, and then scanned for the tagged targets optically and magnetically. The latter approach used the same giant magnetoresistant (GMR) sensors that read the bits on an iPod’s hard drive. They quickly developed a shoebox-sized prototype capable of detecting toxins, including ricin and anthrax.
Philips initially developed both a GMR sensor and an optical one that relies on frustrated total internal reflection (FTIR)–the same phenomenon that underlies fingerprint scanners and multitouch screens. The company decided to go the FTIR route in order to exploit its expertise in building optical sensors for consumer electronics devices, says Jeroen Nieuwenhuis, technical director of Philips Handheld Immunoassays, the division responsible for commercializing the biosensor technology, which goes by the trade name Magnotech.
Moving to an optical detection method also allowed Philips to simplify the test cartridges that the device employs, making them easier to mass-produce, says Nieuwenhuis. With the current FTIR-based system, “we can make simpler cartridges in larger quantities more easily,” he adds.
Once the device’s sample collector has absorbed enough saliva, it automatically changes color and can then be snapped into the measurement chamber, where the saliva and nanoparticles mix. An electromagnet speeds the nanoparticles to the sensor surface, different portions of which
have been pretreated with one of the five target-drug molecules. If traces of any of the five drugs are present in the sample, the nanoparticles will bind to them. If the sample is drug free, the nanoparticles will bind to the drug-coated sensor surface instead.
The orientation of the magnetic field that first drew the nanoparticles to the sensor is then reversed, pulling away any nano-labeled drug molecules that may accidentally have stuck to the sensor surface but leaving legitimately bound ones in place. This last magnetic trick promises to reduce what Larry Kricka, a clinical chemist at the University of Pennsylvania who recently co-authored an article in Clinical Chemistry on the use of magnetism in point-of-care testing, calls “a major restraint in such assays”: the unintentional capture of molecular labels on the test surface, a leading cause of both false positives and false negatives. Kricka is not involved with Philips but does serve as a consultant to T2 Biosciences, a Cambridge, MA, firm that promotes a magnetic biosensor based on MRI technology.
During the analysis phase, a beam of light is bounced off the sensor. Any nanoparticles bound to the surface will change its refractive index, thereby altering the intensity of the reflected light and indicating the concentration of drugs in the sample. By immobilizing different drug molecules on different portions on the sensor surface, the analyzer is able to identify the drug traces in question. An electronic screen displays instructions and a simple color-coded readout of the results.
The test takes less than 90 seconds and can detect drugs at concentrations measured in parts-per-billion using a single microliter of saliva.

The sensor is capable of even greater sensitivity–it has been used to detect cardiac troponin, a commonly used indicator of heart attack, at concentrations 1,000 times lower.
Philips plans ultimately to enter the healthcare market. It is working on a platform capable of testing blood as well as saliva and is seeking partners that can help expand its testing menu by providing it with additional biomarkers.
Other researchers have built experimental devices to magnetically detect a wide range of biomolecules in minuscule samples of blood or saliva at extremely low concentrations. Often this involves using microfluidic or magnetic forces to quickly shepherd the magnetically labeled molecules through scanners–though a group at the University of Utah has even built a prototype in which a sample-laden stick is swiped across a GMR sensor, like a credit-card through a reader.
The combination of high sensitivity, low sample volumes, miniaturization, speed, and ease of use has raised hopes for a handheld biosensor that could perform sophisticated tests with high accuracy.
“Everyone’s trying to get there,” says Kricka. “The question is who’s going to win?” With Philips set to introduce its drug tester in Europe by the end of the year in partnership with the British diagnostics firm Cozart, the consumer electronics maker appears poised to take the prize.
Published Tuesday, August 04, 2009 @ Technology Review.

0 thoughts

  1. I don’t see what people are upset over. As long as you don’t drive recklessly, have your license plates recent, and abide by the law, there’s nothing to worry about. If this device will help us get marijuana legalized, I’m all for it.

  2. 29 David
    Noone is telling you to shut up. What’s up man?
    Do you have a problem with a difference of opion, or do you just see things one way? Does the truth offend you?

  3. Hey phil e drifter. Why dont ou stop bein n intolerant bastard. Listen you cowardly little piss ant NORML isint a site to debate god its to discuss pot. and just so u know retard, god dosent start wars guy like me do.

  4. This does not mean that they support decrim or legalization. Its just another tool to use to make them more money. Hopefully this will wake up all the closet smokers and activate them into screaming bloody murder. You cannot hide in the closet anymore. They will find and identify you. Now is the time to band together and overcome their draconian law system. I say we keep up the good fight for legalization as well as medical use. It is our right!!! We came to America to avoid oppression. Where are we going to go now if we let the prohibitionists win? I live in Texas and as tempting as it is to escape to California or Colorodo, where I would qualify as a medical patient, I must stay and help with the fight here in Texas, keeping my vote ready!!!

  5. this is some major bullshit. its a waste of technology. if you get pulled over the police will find it 9 out of 10 times trust me i got arresteed. i think its funny how bad our economy is and the government and companys are worrying and putting money towards the dumbest fuckin things. we need a revolution. overthrow the government!!!!

  6. The laws regarding cannabis are what make this technology a blessing or a nightmare. If cannabis is illegal like it is now, then if an officer pulls somebody over and smells cannabis, then a whole bunch of things follow and now they can detect if the driver is under the influence too, aside from simple observation. But if cannabis is decriminalized or legalized, then it could be a good thing. But, we have to determine how much qualifies as “under the influence” and to what extent “under the influence” means impaired. Because compared to alcohol, there is little to suggest that there be some level of influence that makes you as impaired as alcohol can. With alcohol, you can be unconscious behind the wheel. This is not possible with cannabis and, rather obviously, cannabis can make you unfit to drive a car. And, by the way, just because cannabis can be successfully passed off as a medicine, doesn’t mean that you can get away with driving under its influence. There are many prescription medications that specifically restrict a user from “operating heavy machinery” and especially automobiles.

  7. If this device is used only to catch drivers that have THC levels sufficient to cause legal impairment I am totally for it. I think however that before this device is implemented they need to have an unbiased study that determines exactly what concentrations cause impairment. I also like this device’s potential because it replaces methods that give false positives, making it so only the irresponsible minority is punished. I just hope (quite unrealistically I’m afraid) that this device is used purely for the good of the people.

  8. There is no more Science Fiction because Human Thinking or Imagination of the SciFi world has become reality. The BIG BROTHER TECHNOLOGY is here and it’s just going to get worse in the near future. There is always an individual out there who does’nt care about humanity or the freedoms of individuals, just GREED. Another SILVER BULLET for the POLICE STATE MENTALITY on Marijuana Prohibition and just another tool for THE MODERN DAY INQUISITORS who want to control our existence as human beings and our actions in society. The Inquisition never left, it just modernized to fit the present time period and the PERSECUTION goes on until sane DRUG LAWS are incorperated to fit the infraction. The WINDS OF CHANGE are here and it’s closer than you think. 420 ALL THE WAY!

  9. 53 General-Jake
    That’s what I’m talkin’ about! You have a whole lot of Louie in you…but…I’m glad you’re on our side.

  10. I have never been A big fan of modern Tech.. I had A real bad feeling some device like this one was coming our way.America is A hoax,lets face it people.We have seen our freedom eroded Get me off this planet please!!! How much is A enough ,I’m out of here.Remeber when the USA was A good guy?? I feel sorry for the youth,Look what they have to tolerate As they become older!!

  11. Thanks BEHIND THE GREE DOOR i dont kno wat it means to hav a lot of Louie but ill take it. I didnt want to be harsh on the guy but when people attack others for their faith its wrong. Whether god exsists or not if someone feels beter believin in god leave em alone. All we should talk about here is the various opinions n pot. I ponder gods exsistance but here on earth i put my faith in my pot, my choices and the almity gun. HUMANS start wars, kill, steal, rape, backstab and conspire. But neither Buddha, Shiva, Allah or Jesus start wars Only the animal within us

  12. Fuck Im not into this new tech. For one I been driving for 10 years high and never had a car accident. I dont think marijuana should be compare to alcohol when it come to driving, because with marijuana you are more aware of what you are doing compare to beer that makes people more aggrasive and therfor want to do more harm.

  13. 63 General Jake
    Re: Louie
    Louie was with me in Las Vegas. What you never, ever want to happen is to have your name reach Louie’s ears when he is pissed off. You might as well bend over, grab your ankles, and kiss your ass goodbye.

  14. The sad part it, they need something so precise and technical to detect if someone has smoked a bowel. If they cannot tell without said device, like you can tell with alchohol without a device, then whats the problem? Sounds like something more useless to spend tax payer dollars on. Something more to push the “dangerous” hype. And with all the actual dangerous drugs out there, they focus entirely too much on pot: the harmless one. Were the idiots for electing these people into office.

  15. thing is, this may force them to compare how much herb it will take to equal a .08 of an alcohol may make them see how different marijuana is from drinking.if they see the differences, they may see to set a standard…..altho it is harder for us, it may ease the ridicule of marijuana through this learning process. we know how to treat herb . if they learn that , it may benefit us.this testing will be documented and, i believe benefit will surface on our behalf.

  16. I think this is a realistic idea and possibly even a good one. If we expect marijuana to be made legal than we must be realistic about how it will be made legal. It must be regulated just like alcohol and cigerates. Marijuana is the peaceful drug and we must learn to work with the government in order to get what we want. Driving under the influence of alcohol is wrong and kills many lives. Driving under the influence of marijuana may not be as bad, but we all need to advocate using marijuana responsibly.

  17. Don’t worry someone will soon develop and manufacture
    a detoxifying mouthwash or gum that will make things undetectable. More than likely the very same people who manufactured this device of Big Brother control grid technology. The escalation of this technology will soon in time evolve in linking the results to satellites transfer of results to DNA databases.
    Just like when radar guns turned to laser guns and radar detectors turned to laser detectors and now speed camera detectors. See a pattern? What a ruse!
    Beware when the righteous prepare for the practice of evil.—
    Kenneth Patchen
    Orwellian nightmares awaken and manifest under the disguise and construct of divine governmental intereventions.-
    Ray DiPasquale

  18. After I was jailed for having leaves I was court ordered to attend AA meetings. I asked several drunk drivers in those meetings how would they feel if they were jailed and forced to attend meetings for something unrelated to their addiction. Several members agreed they wished alcohol was illegal to manufacture and possess as they would of been saved decades ago because most of them had been caught drunk driving dozens of times. But back in the 50s and 60s the cops usually let them drive home. Even today the punishment is small for drunk drivers compared to people with leaves.
    Bottom line……Most anti-marijuana advocates enjoy alcohol. Take away my freedom to smoke a joint. 72 years strong. Which is ironically a little less than the time alcohol has been legal. Obama promised a “level playing field” . Lets make the first crop planted in this field marijuana. I would love to see the drunk baby raper next door put in prison for having beer. But I would rather enjoy a nice fatty in my backyard picked from a plant that God put here.

  19. To me it’s the same as a body cavity search. Only this time you’re getting the proverbial “bend over and take it like a man, slave bitch”. I am grateful that I made a decision at a very young age to steer clear of credit cards and employers who drug test.
    I have had limited vision all my life but I have always seen such violations to our privacy and civil rights. It’s sad that we are letting little machines enslave us slowly but surely.
    Say no to technocracy.

  20. There are studies that have shown that marijuana does not impair your driving> I am a living testament to that. Why is this not mentioned?

  21. The day I got my medical MJ card I stopped driving and cut up my drivers licence. I had a choice and it was an esay one for me. This road side teat just will not work. I can stop smoking for a week and I would still be 5 times the legal limit for PPM of THC.
    I think our best argument is wether or not THC in you system is a public safty issue, just how many car crashes are caused by MJ. My guess is that way more crashes are caused by people eating or putting on makup then by MJ.
    Only one thing will ever fix this problome, All of us must go out and contact the new people running for office in 2010, we need to tell them now that our vote is dependent on one issue, WILL THRY SOPPORT TAXING AND REG. OF MJ if not then there is no way we can vote for them. If enough people contact them, they will make it pary of there campaine.
    I am the 442nd MM card holder in New Mexico. It is not wrong for me to use but it is for you. I will keep fighting until everyone over 21 has a legal right to smoke if they want to.

  22. Ray’s comment was especially enlightened, because our current society is beyond addicted to greed; conflict-of-interest is a way of life, a strategy for many.
    The most cancerous drugs on our society today: greed, power-over-others, sugar-the prohibitionist’s “white powder drug,” and processed foods.
    Like others have pointed out, how much one smoked/ingested is important, but based on decades of my own observations, how many years a person has been using cannabis is a KEY factor.
    When I’m out and about I see people who I believe haven’t been smoking, but they drive like they never took driving lessons, don’t know any of the rules of the road, and everyone-else-be-damned. But I’ve been a passenger in vehicles with mj smokers driving, as they smoked, and they were not novice smokers, probably the most distracting thing was their rage at our govt. at all the evil it perpetrates in the name of righteousness.
    As far as I’m concerned if people are driving badly, pull them over, feel free to test them, it could be they’ve run out of insulin or are 80+ years old and are foggy. But this is evil if they’re going to create “check points” and run everyone through them, “guilty until proven innocent,” they spit in the faces of those they pay so much lip service to.
    As far as the pharma drugs (amphetamines and crystal meth), the best I know those drugs have been given routinely to people by our own govt/military to people they wanted to stay alert, especially when operating machinery. The biggest problem for us other drivers, from drivers on speed, is they may think the rest of us are in slow motion, so they drive too fast. Then let them be punished for driving too fast.
    I don’t know enough about cocaine, but from what I know it’s a stimulant too and totally unlike alcohol, a depressant. And the best I can tell about heroin is that people who use heroin don’t say “let’s go for a drive” ala Mungo Jerry, but that heroin users prefer to find some place they can not be disturbed so they can relax, aka “nod.”
    I’ve been thinking for quite some time that NORML and MPP should sponsor a reality TV show, or bunch of tests. Go to the Salt Flats, a movie lot, or some huge private property and conduct tests and record it all. Compare drivers (all shapes and sizes) who have consumed various quantities of alcohol and mj, and their driving skills after consumption.

  23. just had a stoner thought. be funny if u got pulled over and u had the dry’s (cotton mouth what ever u call it) then there would be no spit. sorry am giggling to myself imagining it.

  24. I have no problem with getting INTOXICATED drivers off the road. I saw my brother run down by an intoxicated driver. He was drunk, but no matter, he could have just as easily been stoned, and not paying attention the way he would have had he not been stoned. Driving while impaired on ANYTHING is WRONG. Stoners need a designated driver the same as drunks. If you fail to meet that responsability, you should be taught the error of your ways. I have been a responsible user of cannabis exclusively for 41yrs, and there is very little that anyone could tell me about cannabis that I don’t already know. I know that a stoned driver is safer than a drunk, but not as safe a a sober driver. I would rather be on the road with a 100 stoners, than to be on the road with 1 drunk, but truth be known I would prefer they were ALL sober.

  25. Thanks phillips for this shit, and congratulations on losing a potential customer for any of your products, forever.

  26. Not to be mean or anything,
    but what-if…
    – Passing a cannabis “sobriety-test”
    were contingent upon correctly spelling
    all words in a typewritten-entry or post;
    (and one would even be allowed to “cheat” on the
    spelling-test, by using a dictionary / word list).
    – Under these conditions,
    how many of us would pass…???
    Cannabinoids PROMOTE NEUROGENESIS!!!
    (and VICE-VERSA!!!)
    Word to Michael Phelps:
    😈 😈 😈

  27. #78 Chris Orr Says:
    August 16th, 2009 at 3:53 pm
    Thanks phillips for this shit, and congratulations on losing a potential customer for any of your products, forever.
    RE: Chris,
    – You’ve got this SO WRONG!!!
    Don’t you understand the “plus-side”
    of THIS technology???
    …It’s even mentioned in the article,
    (IF you read it COMPLETELY!!!).
    – UNLIKE hair-tests, pee-tests,
    (which don’t indicate present-use,
    from weeks prior…),
    this handy little device indicates
    more-immediate RECENT-USE,
    (functions like a “breathalizer” does,
    EXCEPT it’s for pot…).
    – One LESS EXCUSE for keeping pot illegal,
    (DUID-impairment can be more-accurately determined),
    – A nail-in-the-coffin for “zero-tolerance”,
    “per-se” DUID-laws”
    – The Philips device measures ACTUAL THC,
    more easily correlated with present-impairment,
    (whereas urine-tests have ZERO-VALIDITY
    in light of this…),
    and can be LEGALLY CHALLENGED,
    (since pee-tests unfairly label a person
    as “impaired”, when they’re actually not).

  28. I don’t think this is a bad thing. As you pointed out, it kind of destroys an argument being resorted to against legalization by many, and also, let’s not kid ourselves— we realistically want CONTROLLED legalization. Part of this control is not being allowed to drive while intoxicated. Right?

  29. I’m a forty somthing truck driver been driving for about 28 years never had a ticket or accident about eight yeers ago got called for a random test while i was laid off (dec 18th) tested jan 3rd failed three days later had to see SAP (substanc abuse proffesional) was told had to pay $589 and three days of counsuling then test before returnig to work in the spring (end of april).walked in paid my money then i was tested on the spot.of course failed agin.the SAP then told me i had the wrong drug of choice as a driver i should be doing coke its out of my system in about three days where as pot has a half life of 14 days now the cost of couseling was $6,800 & eight weeks of eight hour a day counseling &60 months of twice monthly testing at my expence $75 each. I said no &the SAP told me i would loose my benefits and never be able to drive agin if i didnt compley.(threats of none complience)the following spring i went to work for another company have been there until august of this year (not drug related) passing the pre-hire & randoms at will now while searching for another job if this information is found (10 years of employment history )i will not only have to compley (probably at a higer cost now)I will have to submit to a strip search and a direct observed test(someone watching the urin come from my penis into the cup). i don’t think even a fellon has to submit to that much intrusion of privacy during their test, if this new test can stop that &let me smoke my bud on my own time without testing positive eight hours later i say bring it out now!!!!

  30. I think driving impaired no matter what you’re on or what you’re doing is just an illogical full with unhealthy risks (mainly death). However if this new test could be implemented in the right ways such as testing for current impairment for roads and employers; it could be a great leap forward for ending this silly prohibition. We all know what’s actually going to happen though, it’s clearly happened in the small town of Kodiak Alaska and many other places. That is, the greater the ability to catch a felon, the greater the force gets paid, thus the more they work towards pulling in the highest net profit catches. I’m not saying that they won’t be doing they’re jobs, just saying they’ll be focusing more on the wrong areas for profiteering reasons.

  31. Last night a close friend went on an errand in a bad part of Phoenix and was stopped for a burned out headlight on her car. She was diagnosed with bipolar disorder some years ago and now takes several different medications to keep the disorder in check as well as a thyroid medication. The medicines have caused a slight tremor in her hands which is aggravated when she has too much coffee or when she is nervous. Well, to make a long story short, she was cuffed, her car was searched and she was forced to give blood to be tested for drugs in order not to lose her license for a year. Her car is being impounded for 30 days while the drug test is completed. The cop accused her of being stoned on marijuana. This is someone that I have known very well and watched attend AA regularly for over twenty years. I know that she is vehemently opposed to marijuana because I have tried unsuccessfully to convince her of the utility of medical marijuana on over a dozen different occasions. This is someone that is not capable of smoking cannabis at this point in her life. Apparently if you have even the slightest of motor impairments or have ever had a senior moment think twice about driving in Phoenix. The Phoenix police appear to be using criteria to determine whether a person is stoned that have nothing to do with being stoned and that are likely to misidentify many people. While it is true that she will most likely be vindicated she has become another victim of the War on Drugs. Even an accusation is devastating to a mother trying to raise two girls on $1,100 per month from a railroad pension.

  32. I wonder how this would affect states like NJ that have “Being Under the Influence” laws, where it’s a crime just HAVE DRUGS IN YOUR SYSTEM, not only to be in possession or DUI? I see HUGE potential for abuse there.

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