The problem with surveys in research is that, inevitably, you’ll have a percentage of people will be dishonest in them. But poo and pee? They always tells the truth.
That’s the premise behind American Civil Liberties lawyer Alison Holcomb’s proposal at a Spokane City Council subcommittee meeting this past week.
“Nobody can lie about what’s showing up in the sewage,” Holcomb said to council.
The idea came as stakeholders from law enforcement, schools and local citizens said they needed to know how much Spokane residents were using so they could allocate appropriate public safety resources. Basically, they want data to help them justify increased spending on things like pot enforcement and pot prevention programs.
Holcomb’s idea was welcomed by at least one council member, who touted it as an “awesome new use” for sewage. The thing is, testing public toilet effluence for THC not new at all in Washington.
In fact, researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Puget Sound have used similar methods to survey drug use by college students – namely the increases in amphetamines in sewage during finals weeks. He also found that the self-reporting of amphetamine use was much lower than the poo/pee study showed.
But there are flaws to the idea, as Spokane Wastewater Director Dale Arnold told the Spokesman-Review. Much of the city’s wastewater doesn’t come from toilets, he says.
There are other reasons for objection, notably the ethical issue raised by doing a mass drug test on huge chunks of the population. Though individual use can’t be determined, results could often be used to further stigmatize segments of the population.
Daniel Burgard, a researcher at Puget Sound, says he’s already begun collecting sewage samples from around the state to test THC.