That last toke for the road could be a downer with pot breathalyzers coming

LOS ANGELES, Oct 23 (Reuters) - One toke for the road could end up being a total bummer for drivers who smoke pot, with several companies in the United States preparing to market cannabis breathalyzers as legalized marijuana spreads across the country.

Law enforcement agencies will require breathalyzers to detect marijuana as they are "faced with the necessity of stopping more and more motor vehicles being operated under the influence of THC," said Brett Meade, a retired police chief and a senior program manager for Washington-based non-profit group the Police Foundation.

Nearly a dozen U.S. states allow recreational marijuana consumption and 33 states permit pot for medical use. But all states prohibit driving under the influence of marijuana.

Oakland, California-based Hound Labs is one of the companies developing a breathalyzer to detect THC - the component in marijuana that gets people high - and plans to market it in 2020.

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Customers buy recreational marijuana at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Marijuana is displayed for sale at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A customer browses marijuana products for sale at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Customers queue for recreational marijuana outside the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A customer browses screens displaying recreational marijuana products for sale at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
A woman holds marijuana for sale at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Marijuana edibles are displayed for sale at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Eron Silverstein, 51, (R) shops for marijuana at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Marijuana products are displayed for sale at the MedMen store in West Hollywood, California U.S. January 2, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Customers purchase marijuana at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensary dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana sales in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
People wait in line at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana sales in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
A customer waits at the counter to purchase marijuana as others wait in line at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Andrew DeAngelo (L) and his brother Steve DeAngelo (R), co-founders of Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, celebrate after a ceremonial ribbon cutting on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
An employee hugs a customer as others wait in line at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
An employee finds marijuana for a customer at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Employees wait behind the counter at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, as a large clock counts down to the store's official opening at 6am on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Oakland, California, U.S. January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Different strains of marijuana are seen for sale at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
A couple poses behind a cardboard Instagram frame while waiting in line at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Employees prepare to open at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Steve DeAngelo (C) makes the first legal recreational marijuana sale to Henry Wykowski at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana sales in Oakland, California, U.S. January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Michael Sherman purchases marijuana at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana sales in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
A customer peers at different marijuana strains in a glass case at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
Marijuana is seen for sale at Harborside, one of California's largest and oldest dispensaries of medical marijuana, on the first day of legalized recreational marijuana sales in Oakland, California, U.S., January 1, 2018. REUTERS/Elijah Nouvelage
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Construction companies could be a big part of its market, said Hound Labs Chief Executive Officer Mike Lynn.

"Nobody wants a crane operator 50 stories up to be smoking a joint," he told Reuters.

Lynn, a physician, said pregnancy tests, which can detect minute quantities of hormone, inspired him to tackle the challenge of measuring THC on users' breath.

Separately, Cannabix Technologies Inc based in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby is testing a pair of devices at different price points.

Its THC Breath Analyzer could be cheap enough at a few hundred dollars per unit to potentially allow parents interested in testing their teenager before turning over the keys to the family car, said Cannabix CEO Rav Mlait.

The U.S. court system would need to consider how to treat evidence from THC breathalyzers.

Assuming a motorist who tested positive with a THC breathalyzer was impaired behind the wheel could be "problematic," said Stanford University law professor Robert MacCoun.

Unlike with alcohol, scientific research has not yet established firm correlations between the amount of marijuana people consume and how impaired they become, MacCoun said in an email.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, expressed similar concerns.

But he welcomed breathalyzers as an improvement over existing tests used by police and employers, such as urine analysis that is unable to determine whether marijuana was used recently with the potential for impairment, or days or weeks in the past. Breathalyzers are likely to only detect a user who consumed cannabis within the last few hours.

"A test like that would frankly make sense," Armentano said. "Just like we wouldn't allow employees to have a couple drinks and show up to work." (Additional reporting by Jane Ross in Newark, California; editing by Bill Tarrant and Bill Berkrot)

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