UMass Professor Creates Phone App That Tests For Marijuana Impairment


When it comes to driving under the influence of marijuana, it’s far from an exact science when it comes to proving driver impairment. Marijuana DUIIs are a hot topic in states that have legalized, and in states that are exploring the idea of legalizing. As it stands right now, states fall into two categories when it comes to marijuana DUIIs. States like Colorado and Washington have a per se limit, meaning that if you are found to have a certain amount of THC in your system or higher, you are determined to be impaired by default, and you get charged with driving under the influence.

Those laws are fine for officers that want to go after everyone they see, but they are problematic for prosecutors who experience high dis-affirm rates (no pun intended) because the accused and/or their attorneys point out that the mere presence of marijuana in a person’s system does not indicate impairment, rather, it indicates that the person consumed marijuana at some point during the last month or so, and nothing more.

This is also why attempts at creating marijuana breathalyzers have come up empty. They are always built on junk science. Marijuana breathalyzers can determine if marijuana has been consumed by a person recently, but not whether or not the person is impaired. It’s easy to scientifically prove that if a person has a measurable amount of alcohol on their breath that they also have a blood alcohol level that directly corresponds with the level of alcohol on their breath. The same isn’t true for marijuana. Not even close. Frequent marijuana users will have marijuana on their breath, but be far from impaired – a point that is raised in court early and often by savvy DUII defense attorneys.

The other category of states determine marijuana impairment behind the wheel based off of a combination of field sobriety tests and sometimes the presence of marijuana in a person’s system. The totality of circumstances combines to prove that the person was impaired. This is much more accurate way to measure impairment, and is far more fair than a per se limit. To be clear, I do not support impaired driving, whether marijuana is involved or not. No one who is intoxicated from anything should be behind a wheel. That’s how people get hurt, and in some very sad instances, people lose their life.

I don’t want marijuana impairment on the roads just as many non-marijuana consumers don’t want to see that on the roads. It’s about the only area of marijuana policy that I agree on with opponents. But in order to minimize true marijuana DUIIs on public roads, states have to enact science based practices to identify impairment, and not gimmick devices or per se limits. A UMass professor has created a phone app that he feels proves impairment. More about it per the Boston Globe:

Michael Milburn, a psychology professor at University of Massachusetts Boston for 39 years, is trying to get his app that tests for marijuana impairment into the hands of law enforcement. He has created and self-funded DRUID, an acronym for for driving under the influence of drugs. It is a tablet-based app in which users are asked to perform a series of tasks in five minutes.

The app tasks include asking users to tap the screen in certain places when they see different shapes; to stop a clock when 60 seconds have passed; to follow a moving circle on the screen with a finger as it randomly changes directions; and to stand on one leg for 30 seconds each with the iPad in one hand.

Milburn has run tests and had subjects use DRUID repeatedly while consuming marijuana and tracked impairment scores as they rise, and then decrease as the drug metabolizes. He has not published any peer-reviewed studies based on his tests.

Mr. Milburn’s idea is not the first of its kind. NORML created the ‘Canary App‘ that helps marijuana users gauge their performance. I don’t personally see a phone app becoming the standard for law enforcement to prove marijuana impairment behind the wheel, as it creates many ways for defense attorneys to poke holes in the science behind the phone app, but I do think that it can be a useful tool for consumers to use prior to getting behind the wheel to help them determine if they are fit to drive.

To be fair, some people will fail the app simply because they are not good with technology and/or see the app as a ‘phone game’ and don’t give it the true focus and attention that is needed to give an accurate reading, among other things. But if it helps keep people off the roads that are impaired, marijuana or otherwise, I’m all for people giving it a try. Just don’t try to pull me over and put a phone app in front of my face and tell me that my life is about to be ruined if the phone app doesn’t like the way I move my finger around on a handheld device screen, otherwise it’s appeal time! People can get arrested for refusing a breathalyzer or other chemical test when behind the wheel. Will the same eventually be true for a phone app? I guess only time will tell.

Johnny Green
About Johnny Green 2539 Articles
Johnny Green is a cannabis activist from Oregon. Johnny has a bachelor's degree in public policy, and believes that the message should always be more important than the messenger. #LegalizeIt #FreeThePlant