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‘Marijuana breathalyzer’ hopes to help workplace screening

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Biotech company Hound Labs unveiled new product with shorter cannabis detection window for use by employers

1 of 6A California-based biotech company has released a commercially available "marijuana breathalyzer" that could help with workplace cannabis detection issues. Hound Labs says that their product has the shortest marijuana detection window available among testing products.Courtesy of Hound Labs

ALBANY — A new marijuana breathalyzer product has hit the market and is being billed as a way for employers to screen workers for on-duty marijuana use.

Hound Labs, a California-based biotechnology company, is releasing the first commercial “marijuana breathalyzer” for employers to detect recent cannabis use in workers and as a way to “deter workday use.”

New York was the first state to pass a law banning employers from testing workers for cannabis without signs of impairment as part of legalizing recreational marijuana. More than two years later, many say state laws lack clarity for employers and employees. ACT NOW The law allows employers to test workers if they reasonably suspect that a person is impaired by marijuana at work because they are showing obvious signs of use. Current tests, however, often detect marijuana use for up to 30 days prior, so it’s difficult to determine whether someone is under the influence of cannabis or has simply consumed it in recent days. Without a test of current impairment, attorneys and researchers have said that the law leaves both workers and business owners confused. Hound Labs hopes to bring clarity to workplace testing with its breathalyzer, which it claims detects marijuana use within a few hours — the shortest window among tests on the market, according to the company. The device has been tested with people who smoked marijuana and has reached standardized workplace testing accuracy, said Nina French, the company’s president of employer solutions. “It’s very exciting to watch the ways that people are starting to understand the importance of continuing to test for cannabis now that it’s legal,” French said. French said the test does not measure current impairment, as there is no standard for what cannabis impairment means, making such a test impossible. Instead, the company’s breathalyzer isolates recent use. The test identifies active molecules of THC, the primary psychoactive component of cannabis, in breath. Studies of the product show it will detect those molecules if someone has smoked, but the company says that the test also detects edible or other marijuana ingestion and it will release studies on alternative use later. Hound Labs hopes that its product will help employers reduce risks in the workplace due to cannabis impairment, while “maintaining employee recruitment and retention efforts” by testing for a shorter window of cannabis use. “Since founding Hound Labs, we have witnessed shifts in legislative and cultural views regarding cannabis use, and employers have voiced their need for an objective testing solution,” the company’s co-founder Mike Lynn said. Employers can purchase the test from Hound Labs, and the company has sent hundreds of products to employers nationwide, French said. “Nearly a decade of research has resulted in almost 20 issued patents, with dozens more pending,” Lynn said. “Shipping the first breathalyzers marks a significant milestone in our long-standing commitment to enhancing workplace safety.” Before testing an employee, businesses would still need to observe obvious signs of impairment in the individual under the New York labor law. To test a worker, the employer will have them blow into a single-use mouthpiece attached to a single-use cartridge that connects to the system. The employee will have to blow for an average of 2 to 3 minutes, with pauses, until the system indicates enough has been collected. Unlike urine tests, the breathalyzer allows the collection of the sample to be observed, French said. The company said that observation will lead to more honest samples. The employer then sends the cartridge to one of the company’s partner labs, which tests the sample and posts the results to its online portal. Employers can check the dashboard for the status of tests, with negative results coming back an average of 24 hours from the lab’s receipt. Positive results average closer to 36 hours due to a second round of “rigorous” testing to confirm the original positive finding. The price of the device depends on use as employers must also buy cartridges and mouthpieces. It’s unclear what rights an employee may have to refuse to submit to one of the tests. For labor unions, the use of that type of device on their members would likely be subject to collective bargaining. The cannabis breathalyzer will be on the market only for employers and not available to law enforcement. The company has said it is considering pursuing options for tests for law enforcement, which could be used for testing potentially impaired drivers, but that its priority is focusing on workplace testing. Cannabis-impaired drivers have been a growing problem across New York, with a report in April showing more arrests occurring over the last five years. Police have said that a test of current impairment could also aid in their detection and deterrent efforts.


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