Colorado Investigators Use 'Nasal Ranger' Olfactometer To Detect Smell Of Pot In Public

By Josh Lieberman on November 18, 2013 5:31 PM EST

pot smoker
Investigators in Denver, Colo., are using a device called the Nasal Ranger to detect the smell or marijuana in public. In Colorado, pot is legal to use recreationally, but the smell of it in public could violate a city odor ordinance. (Photo: Reuters)

Although Colorado voters decided to legalize marijuana in 2012, not all Coloradans are down with their neighborhoods going up in smoke. When Denver residents complain about the smell of pot stinking up the streets--something which is happening "more and more"--the city dispatches the Nasal Ranger to investigate.

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The Nasal Ranger isn't a person, but an odd-looking device that can detect if an odor is unacceptably pungent by measuring "ambient odor dilution-to-threshhold." An odor that exceeds a 7-1 ratio--seven (or more) volumes of air for one volume of the offending smell--violates a Denver ordinance banning bad smells, and results in a $2,000 fine.  

A segment on the History Channel show "Modern Marvels" -- file://localhost/" rel="nofollow" target="_blank">explained how the olfactometer works. The user of the Nasal Ranger first turns a dial on the device to change the size of the opening; the larger the hole, the more air that is sucked into the olfactometer. The user inhales through the Nasal Ranger, bringing air into a teflon barrel. Carbon filters remove most of the smell, leaving the user with just a small fraction of the bad smell. The user then turns the dial down to find the smallest sized opening through which the bad smell can be detected.  

In Denver, it isn't very likely that marijuana smoke would tip the scales on the Nasal Ranger. A smell has to be of industrial strength to exceed the 7-to-1 ratio, something that hasn't happened since 1994. So a person walking down the street may be smelling pot, but it's rare that it would be so strong that it would violate the city ordinance. Those rules are currently being reviewed, though.

"Odor can be subjective," Council President Mary Beth Susman told the Denver Post. "It's hard to legislate odor. The strength that is required to register on the Nasal Ranger is something we need to look at. I also wonder if people will get used to the smell and the dislike of it now may change over time."

If you want to go around your town smelling putrid garbage and subjecting yourself to any manner of olfactory nightmares, you too can purchase a Nasal Ranger. They are said to go for about $1,500, which isn't that much when you consider the memories you'll be making.

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