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December 7, 2021

Magistrate issues cannabis driving warning

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Lismore Local Court.
Lismore Local Court.

Darren Coyne

‘People will either be drivers or (cannabis) smokers, but with the current regime you certainly can’t be both.’

Lismore magistrate David Heilpern offered that musing yesterday while placing a local artist on a 12-month good behaviour bond for choosing to be both.

James John Bunter had pleaded guilty in the Lismore Local Court to a charge of driving a vehicle with an illicit drug in his blood.

His solicitor Steve Bolt said a roadside breath test had initially tested positive to methamphetamine despite him not having touched anything like that for years.

‘He has quite strong opinions of the dangers and has done anti-meth works [of art],’ Mr Bolt said.

Mr Bunter admitted however to having smoked cannabis around midnight the night before he was detected in a roadside test around 1pm.

Mr Bolt pointed out police tests measure presence not quantity, and that the sensitivity of the equipment was ‘quite high’.

He said a conviction could impede Mr Bunter’s ability to travel to the United States, where he worked with another artist putting on exhibitions.

He also needed his licence to work locally as a stonemason.

Magistrate Heilpern accepted the submissions.

‘Magistrate [Jeff] Linden had words to say about the length of time cannabis stays in the system,’ Mr Heilpern said.

‘My understanding is that it can also be picked up within 13 or 14 hours after smoking so I accept that he was not intoxicated.’

‘He has no prior drink drive or drug drive [record] and there was no suggestion that he was driving under the influence.

‘I also take into account that he does a lot for the community’.

Magistrate Heilpern placed Bunter on a good behaviour bond for 12 months, and recorded no conviction, but not before saying, ‘whether one considers these laws of driving with cannabis in their system as road safety measures or prohibition is debatable … people will either be drivers or smokers, but with the current regime you certainly can’t be both’.

Not in New South Wales anyway.

When dealing with a minor drug possession matter a little later involving Nadine Callander, who offered her ‘deepest apologies’ for the indiscretion, Mr Heilpern observed that she had chosen the wrong medicine.

‘Cannabis is not available for medicinal or psychoactive reasons here in NSW,’ he said, before listing the Australian Capital Territory, South Australia, much of mainland Europe and many states of America as places where such reasons were recognised by law.

In another cannabis-related matter, a 72-year-old Barker’s Vale man caught with 11 kilos of ‘good quality’ marijuana was placed on an 18-month good behaviour bond.

The Lismore Local Court heard that Brian Campbell had kicked a 47-year history of cannabis use since being busted and was at a low risk of reoffending.

His solicitor Alicia Carter pointed out that Campbell had no prior conviction of any sort and lived a humble, isolated life.

But he was of good character and had given a lot to the community, providing accommodation for people in need.

A few of his mates – one he had known for 50 years – sat with Mr Campbell throughout the day, waiting for his appearance.

The court heard Campbell had taken part in the MERIT program, designed to break substance abuse problems, and had been described as ‘the best participant in the program’.

Magistrate Heilpern noted that it was ‘a stupid venture and out of character’, motivated by a desire to complete renovations on his house before he became too old.

He noted that the amounts were ‘significant and large’ and placed Campbell on an 18-month good behavior bond for two supply charges, and convicted him of possession and cultivation, but with no penalty.

In an entirely unrelated matter, magistrate Heilpern got the chance to quote English historical figure Oliver Cromwell, while sentencing Gregory Cromwell for low range drink driving,

Gregory Cromwell admitted to sharing a bottle of wine with his wife over dinner, and despite having planned to stay longer for coffee, they left early because their daughter was feeling unwell.

As he was technically over the limit, magistrate Heilpern placed him on a good behaviour bond with no conviction, but said part of the punishment was to listen to his favourite Cromwell quote.

‘Technicalities are the trees in the forest of our justice system and where else shall we hide when the cruel winds sweep across the land’, he said.

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  1. This is getting ridiculous and it’s time the politicians and legislators looked at closing this loophole. Druggies driving, especially under the influence of meth, are particularly dangerous, and liable to road rage as ample media articles tell us. I wonder how the good judge will feel next time such an incident occurs, and an innocent driver gets bashed by another driver under the influence, or causes a reckless accident.

  2. We spend billions every year being nasty to people and destroying an industry that should be earning the community billions every year.
    The drug war is a war on sick people and poor people.
    The drug war is falling apart around the world right now.
    Death to the drug war.

  3. The stigma associated with criminal convictions destroys peoples lives. Cannabis, however, is non-toxic and does not.

    Applying criminal convictions for people who drive un-intoxicated, but have cannabis in their system is PERSECUTION. The system PERSECUTES and DESCRIMINATES against cannabis users.

    This is WRONG.


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