Lismore labelled ‘drug driving capital’ of Australia

Greens MLC David Shoebridge is interviewed by Steve Marshall of A Current Affair. (Darren Coyne)

Greens MLC David Shoebridge is interviewed by Steve Marshall of A Current Affair. (Darren Coyne)

Darren Coyne

Channel Nine’s A Current Affair has labelled Lismore the drug-driving capital of Australia, but even the show’s reporter admits it’s ‘not that straight forward’.

In a segment aired last night, reporter Steve Marshall visited Lismore on a day when 46 people appeared in Lismore Local Court charged with drug driving.

He pointed out that on another occasion, around 70 people appeared on the court list to face the same charge.

Traffic and Highway Patrol Command Acting Assistant Commissioner Stuart Smith told the program in no uncertain terms that ‘if you’ve got drugs in your system you shouldn’t be behind the wheel of a car’

But in a twist for the controversial (and some would say unbalanced) current affairs program, the segment put forward some points that would no doubt please local activists.

Mr Marshall pointed out the while the tests used by police are capable of testing for a range of illicit substances, they only test for cannabis, methamphetamine and MDMA.

Police do not test for cocaine, which is widely regarded as a rich person’s drug. Nor do police test for prescription medication, despite Commander Smith saying ‘if you’ve got drugs in your system you shouldn’t be driving’.

Commander Smith maintained that the region was a hotspot for accidents involving drug-impaired drivers, but gave no details on what actual drugs had been the cause of accidents.

The report also pointed out that the region had virtually no public transport, so people had little option to drive to meet work and family commitments.

With police now able to conduct so called ‘random’ roadside tests, more and more people using cannabis are expected to be caught up in the net.

Hemp Embassy president Michael Balderstone, a major critic of the drug testing regime, told the program that ‘every time I drive there’s a risk of being pulled over’.

But Mr Balderstone argued that many cannabis users who used the herb daily would be more dangerous if they were denied their medicine.

The program also focused on the common criticism of the regime … that it only tests for the presence of drugs, not levels of impairment as roadside alcohol testing does.

Mr Marshall pointed out that impairment tests were available, but cost $600, as opposed to the $49 tests being used by police.

One man interviewed outside the Lismore courthouse, who claimed to have smoked 12 hours before driving, described the tests as ‘horseshit’, and said the government needed to sort it out.

Another man, who had been pulled over nine times in 12 months, explained that he used cannabis to treat pain from an injury.

‘These tests are destroying people. They’ve destroyed me,’ he said.

Another man, who said he did not even smoke cannabis yet tested positive to the substance,  said the testing was unfair.

‘I got a two year behaviour bond for a drug that they say was in my blood when I don’t smoke marijuana … it’s not fair,’ the man said.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge, solicitor Steve Bolt, Greens MP Tamara Smith and Southern Cross University academic Aidan Ridgeway. (Darren Coyne)

Greens MLC David Shoebridge, solicitor Steve Bolt, Greens MP Tamara Smith and Southern Cross University academic Aidan Ricketts. (Darren Coyne)

At a forum at the Tatts Hotel in Lismore on the day A Current Affair was in town, Lismore solicitor Steve Bolt said there was confusion about how long cannabis stays in a person’s system.

Mr Bolt pointed to the government’s own road safety website which maintains that cannabis can be detected up to 12 hours after ingesting, but said many people appearing in court had smoked days, even weeks before being busted.

In a case that made national headlines, magistrate David Heilpern recently found a man not guilty after he told the court he not smoked for nine days but still tested positive.

The program also referenced the argument that the drug testing regime was effectively stifling the potential multi-million hemp food industry in the state.

And while the segment ended with ‘Sarah, mother of four’, who smoked cannabis in her 20s, arguing that the ‘bottom line is it’s hugely dangerous’, her appeal for zero tolerance is unlikely to sway those calling for change.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge is leading the push for such change, and promised the Lismore forum that he and Greens MP Tamara Smith would be pushing for an inquiry into the drug testing regime when parliament resumes.







10 responses to “Lismore labelled ‘drug driving capital’ of Australia”

  1. Jon says:

    Visitors to Lismore are shocked by the detritus that floods in from Nimbin and surrounding areas, drug-soaked, drunk and unwashed. We should be looking at cleaning the place up, not pandering to these layabouts who are just looking for the easiest and cheapest way to get smashed so as to garner a few votes for leftist politicians.

    • Steve says:

      I wonder if Jon drinks alcohol or coffee?

      They are drugs Jon and you can drive after a couple of beers if you’re under the “legal” limit but still slightly affected. Try driving after 10 cups of coffee and see how you go!

      You well entitled to your opinions but don’t label people from Nimbin Jon, that’s the sensationalist media’s job and it doesn’t make you sound very nice.

      There are plenty of good, clean, people (like you Jon) from Nimbin who were there (and still are) well before the influx in ’73 which also brought more good people (and the odd one you might be referring to).

      You might suffer from cancer one day Jon and Gods own medicine might help with your suffering, although you may stay stubborn, close minded and prefer to die in pain than take some pot and be labelled “drug-soaked” (oh sorry morphine is ok isn’t it John).

      The plant has been successfully demonised but tell me of another drug that you can take in various ways that hasn’t been processed and altered by man?

      Wait until the Govt work out how much money is to be made from medicinal cannabis, hang on a minute they have, the process has begun……won’t have such the negative stigma then Jon once the Govt say its ok now. You might find some of your friends will try it, but then again they probably won’t tell you.

      Your message could have been written 200 years ago with a slight variation – Visitor to Lismore from surrounding lands are shocked by the detritus that floods in from England and surrounding areas, rude, intolerant and arrogantly believing they (and their opinions) are superior.

      Bye the way, I don’t smoke pot but I have learnt much about the amazing potential of this super plant!

      Open minds learn well more than those that stopped learning once they think they know it all.

      So let’s lobby for cocaine and prescription medication testing on the roads of Vaucluse, Point Piper and surrounding areas!!!

      • Ken says:

        Nah !
        These bigots are great for the cause of all sentient, informed citizens. I believe that these creepy types only make it more obvious that the wonderful people of the new-age, living in the area and providing an example of how life in this new paradigm, after the collapse of the industrial military machine, must be shaped.
        The people of this area who have lived and proved the principles of peace, harmony and brown rice and the rejection of the status quo are paragons of virtue, in this increasingly perverted and dysfunctional society where torture and the invasion of peaceful countries has become the ‘norm’.
        The kind of scum that seek to inflict their inappropriate and thoughtless ideas on others, with no justification or even a valid right to express these opinions on how others should pursue their life choices are only self-evident proof of how bitter and twisted people become when they buy into the sick society that some support in the name of ‘liberal party ideals’

      • Ben says:

        Say no to drugs Steve.

    • Paul Pot says:

      What you are talking about is the collateral damage of the drug war.
      This is what the drug war has done to our community.
      Just end the drug war and stop destroying people’s lives and society will be able to heal and clean up by itself.

    • Ben says:

      Dead right Jon. The swill that is the Northern Rivers region needs a giant hose down and the cutting of taxpayers funds. How many tax payer funded bullshit programs/welfare/handouts/grants are actually funding these druggies while the decent minority and tourists of the region prop them up? I bet if the magistrate could cancel their dole as a sentence, it would make a huge impact on their illegal behaviour.

  2. Paul Shaw says:

    The present application of ‘drug-driving’ laws on the Far North Coast is a culture war, especially where cannabis is concerned.
    Testing should be based on impairment, rather than detection of miniscule amounts of cannabis in drivers’ saliva.

  3. banjo bob says:

    The A Current Affair story makes a big mistake in the first line of its summary of this report. ‘Crackdown on drivers high on drugs’. The test is not ‘high’ or ‘affected’ nor ‘impaired’. The charge is drug present. This is soppy journalism, reporting falsehoods. Police make this mistake regularly too. If you are charging for a presence of drugs, you can’t argue danger. If you argue danger, you must charge danger causing impairment. The current law catches drivers causing no damger, and punishes them for a danger they are not creating.

  4. Tim says:

    Of course it appears to be the drug driving capital. It’s the only place in Australia that is constantly bombarded by aggressive over policing, aimed at justifying the idiots in power that continually make these ridiculous decisions. Perhaps it’s time to sharpen up the guillotines.

  5. yi lu says:

    So an impairment test is available for them to catch actual impaired people, but they opted for a test thats flawed and catches everyone with the tiniest bit of saliva substance pertaining to only 3 specific drugs of their choice choosing.

    So i ask again, is this actually about road safety?
    Oh this is looking dodgier by the second.

    Who needs to worry about terrorism? Our police are doing a fine job terrorising everyone on a daily basis.

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