By Darren Coyne
As yet another 50 people charged with drug driving clogged up the Lismore Local Court list yesterday, a band of protesters gathered outside the courthouse to vent their disapproval at the roadside testing regime.
Originally set to be held in front of the police station, the protest was moved to outside the court out of respect for a local police officer who lost a daughter in a crash near Casino on Friday.
The gesture failed to win any sympathy with court security staff, however, with officers quick to move on any protester who dared step onto the court steps, out of the sun, or rest a sign against the building.
The reaction was seen as a little heavy-handed as it’s not like the Lismore court is not used to pot smokers by now.
Lismore solicitor Steve Bolt said the number of positive tests for cannabis was clogging up the system, and was set to get worse.
‘Every week there’s 40 or 50, so there’s been hundreds and hundreds of people dragged through the courts over the last few months, and the police are promising to increase the number of tests next year, so all of us have to be careful of driving a car,’ he said.
‘The second thing to worry about is that the police are testing for repeat offenders. People identified once, who are brought to court, might have got off on a Section 10 (no conviction) … but that only happens once and then the police know you, they know your registration number so do not be surprised if you are then tested two, three, four times, which means the police numbers are going to look good., because they know who they’re testing.
‘So when police put out figures of one in six drivers (testing positive), that’s not a random figure. That’s a result of very selective policing … some people would say that’s clever policing … I say it’s a matter of targeting a particular section of the community who are not necessarily smoking more cannabis than anyone else, they’re just a little more visible about it.
Mr Bolt said the tests did not determine whether a driver was impaired, only whether there was THC in their system, which for most smokers was a given as it could stay in a person’s system for days, if not weeks.
‘As far as I know any science trying to measure impairment is all over the shop … it’s not accurate like it is for alcohol,’ he said.
Nimbin Hemp Embassy president Michael Balderstone said it was police pushing the flawed drug-testing regime as part of the prohibitionist approach that had dominated the cannabis debate for decades.
‘I’ve spoken to (Lismore Nationals MP) Thomas George and he says the buck stops with the deputy premier Troy Grant, an ex cop and police minister and he’s an old school cop, super conservative …
‘I don’t want to go to war. I know quite a few cops and they’re just ignorant I reckon. They don’t get it .. they still believe the reefer madness bullshit from 80 years ago. They’re scared of weed. They’re scared it will turn you into a long-haired idiot, or a sloth … I mean how out of touch are they?’
Hemp Party secretary Andrew Kavasilas, whose own drug-driving charge is set to be heard in the NSW District Court next year, told protesters that the many countries that had legalised cannabis for recreational use had already experienced reductions in crime.
He also said the Victorian company supplying saliva testing devices was profiting from having contracts to supply police forces around Australia with their products.
‘Helping people who are suffering shouldn’t be about profit, and it’s all about profit,’ he said.
The testing regime was also holding back the multi-million hemp-food industry in Australia, Mr Kavasilas said.
Meanwhile, Lismore MP Thomas George has confirmed that even if medical marijuana is approved, those taking it would be subject to the same drug driving laws.
In a letter responding to local man, Dr Paul Recher, Mr George confirmed that anyone with approval to take medical marijuana would still be subject to the drug driving laws.
At yesterday’s rally, a repeated concern was that while cannabis smokers were being targeted, the police were not testing for pharmaceutical drugs known to impair driving, or illicit drugs such as cocaine.
Meanwhile, Greens NSW MP and Drugs and Harm Minimisation spokesperson Dr Mehreen Faruqi has applied under the Government Information (Public Access) Act for the full costs of the Stoner Sloth campaign, including amounts paid to contractors and the government resources allocated.
‘Anyone could tell you that this ludicrous and juvenile campaign has no educational value and is symptomatic of the NSW government’s outdated approach to drugs,’ she said.
‘What we actually need is to have a grown-up conversation that advises people of the risks of drug use so they can make informed decisions.
‘The government has so far refused to release the costing of the campaign, so I have applied under freedom of information laws to reveal just how much taxpayers were slugged for this thought bubble.
‘The community would be much better off if public money were used for proven harm reduction strategies,’ she said.