Roadside saliva testing for marijuana use gets House hearing in Michigan

April 18, 2014 | Rick Thompson

LANSING- The Michigan House of Representatives considered making the state’s citizens subject roadside saliva testing for the presence of marijuana and other drugs in a Judiciary Committee meeting on April 17, 2014.

Michigan already has laws and procedures to protect citizens from hazardous drivers, including liberal rules defining reckless operation of a motor vehicle and a visual analysis of drivers to determine if they are under the influence of drugs or alcohol. If impairment is suspected officers already have the ability to order a blood test, to seize a motorist’s vehicle, and to arrest the individual involved. Saliva tests have been rejected for use by the federal government and the industry reports no FDA approval for the methodology.

Michigan has a per se drug law. Anyone operating a motor vehicle with any presence of cannabis in the bloodstream is committing a crime, even if the driver is not driving recklessly or has no detectable signs of impairment. A Michigan court case ruled that the presence of a specific marijuana metabolite in the bloodstream did not constitute impairment, which stands in opposition to the per se law. 

SALIVA TESTING- IS IT REAL SCIENCE?

Generally speaking, saliva testing for marijuana is viewed by the experts as an unproven technology that does not demonstrate behavior that is dangerous to the public. Sources report that “even the US Department of Justice concedes that a positive drug test result for the presence of a drug metabolite “does not indicate … recency, frequency, or amount of use; or impairment.”" One industry website states, “Some people may question the saliva drug test accuracy because there is no formal method or certification required while testing saliva. False positives may occur due to improper testing processes.”

Manufacturers of saliva tests do not agree on the reliability of the testing methodology. “Why is it important to evaluate the performance of a saliva test?” asks drug testing manufacturer Narco Check. “Because the only molecule present in the mouth after smoking a joint is the Δ9-THC, not THC-COOH. But many saliva tests on the market are still designed on the basis of modified urine tests, that track mainly THC-COOH and not the Δ9-THC. These tests are completely ineffective.” MediTests reports that, “The designation of “for forensic use only” means that the substance abuse test is not FDA 510k Cleared.”

In the scholarly journal Clinical Biochemist Reviews, questions were raised about the varying degrees of accuracy in saliva testing. “Oral fluid cannot be seen as a substitute for blood or urine drug testing… For example, the Salivette® has poor recovery for THC but is reasonable for codeine, whereas the Cozart® collector has good recovery for THC, and methamphetamine (unpublished data). The Quantisal® collection device has a good recovery for THC, although another study found lower recoveries for THC.”

How long will the saliva tests detect marijuana use? Depends on who you ask. Narco Check says, “whatever the test used, THC (the active ingredient in cannabis) can never be detected more than 4 to 6 hours in saliva.” Competitor Test Country says the tests are good for up to 12 hours. “Delta 9 THC has been measured in oral fluid up to 72 hours after smoking,” says another competitor, Forensic FluidsMedical Health Test, an industry website, reports that, “Drugs like marijuana and cocaine can be detected up to 24 hours after consumption.”

At what threshold will the test detect marijuana presence? Again, the result depends upon whom you ask. Narco Check will not detect THC at a level below 25 nanograms per liter. Test Country advertises the cutoff for detectable amounts of THC is 50 ng/ml.  Other testing companies reported a wide variety of detection ranges.

In an article from 2012 titled, “Why FDA Toughened Its Stand Against Saliva-Based Drug Test Kits,” author Greg Shpungin states that, “The use of oral fluid drug tests in the workplace is considered a violation in many states and federal laws.”

WHO SUPPORTS THIS TESTING IN MICHIGAN GOVERNMENT?

The House Judiciary Committee will take up the issue of oral marijuana testing in their regular session, which begins at 9 am in the Anderson House Building in Lansing. The proposal is contained in House Bill 5385, which is sponsored by Rep. Dan Lauwers, R-Port Huron, and co-sponsored by 15 other House members, including professed medical marijuana advocate Rep. Michael Callton, R-Nashville.

Lauwers served as a legislative assistant to current Attorney General Bill Schuette during Schuette’s time in Washington, D.C. as a Congressman. Schuette led the fight to prevent medical marijuana from becoming law in Michigan in 2008; he failed, as the people elected to authorize medicinal cannabis by a 63% YES vote. Since he attained the position of A.G., Schuette has initiated or instigated multiple efforts to restrict the activities of those Michiganders who have registered for the program. 

Callton has sponsored HB 4271, called The Provisioning Centers Act, a bill which would allow local communities to allow or restrict distribution centers for medical marijuana. The move to embrace testing that supports a zero-tolerance law which would undoubtedly snare some of the state’s 115,000 licensed and registered medical marijuana patients has members of the cannabis community questioning Callton’s commitment to patient’s rights.

Supporting the legislation are four Democrats- David Rutledge, Paul Clemente, Bill Lavoy and Andy Schor. Notable Republican sponsors of the Bill include Committee Chairman Kevin Cotter and Kevin Daley, sponsor of pro-industrial hemp legislation pending before the Michigan legislature.

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Rick Thompson was the Editor in Chief for the entire 2-year run of the Michigan Medical Marijuana Magazine, was the spokesman for the Michigan Association of Compassion Centers and is the current Editor and Lead Blogger for The Compassion Chronicles. Rick has addressed committees in both the House and Senate, has authored over 200 articles on marijuana and is a professional photographer. He can be reached at:4mrick@gmail.com


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