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March 3, 2024

Lawyer says police tactics have gone to the dogs

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Use of police drug sniffer dogs has become a controversial issue. Photo digitaldeconstruction.com
Use of police drug sniffer dogs has become a controversial issue. Photo digitaldeconstruction.com

Darren Coyne

Police are targeting drug driving in a statewide blitz amid claims that motorists are being wrongly targeted because of ‘imprecise legislation’.

They are also continuing to use sniffer dogs in Nimbin and other centres despite studies showing that the dogs’ success rate of detecting drugs is less than 50 per cent.

One Nimbin resident stopped this week by a drug detection dog believes the ‘positive detection’ was a result of a ‘subtle command to do so from its handler’.

Police searched the man’s personal belongings and his body, spending ‘just a little too long looking down the crack of my hairy bum, in a very public place’, and recorded his personal details.

‘The mutt “detected” drugs on me freshly showered in clothes fresh from the hot water laundromat, when it’s been literally many, many months since I’ve used my preferred medicine.

‘The dog is useless, it responded to a signal from the handler, period.’

Lismore solicitor Steve Bolt told Echonetdaily that despite being used for more than 10 years, sniffer dogs were ineffective.

‘The starting point should be that people should be able to go about their business without being subjected to a police search,’ Mr Bolt said.

‘There’s been a lot of scrutiny of sniffer dogs and the figures show that they detect drugs less than 50 per cent of the time so that’s a lot of dog indications that lead to a search where no drugs are found.’

‘When drugs are detected it’s almost always a very small amount of cannabis so the system is picking up ordinary people, cannabis users, but is yet to detect anyone with a significant amount.’

Meanwhile, police are halfway into a statewide blitz on drink driving, and are also targeting drug drivers.

Traffic and Highway Patrol Commander, assistant commissioner John Hartley, said the operation was run to take those under the influence off the roads.

“Despite the amount of random breath tests that police do throughout NSW each year, there are those that still run the risk of drinking, then either driving, or riding a motorcycle,’ he said.

The announcement of the police operation made no mention of drug driving, other than it was also being targeted.

Mr Bolt said the roadside drug detection regime had the potential for people to be convicted just for the presence of cannabis, despite their driving ability being unimpaired.

He believes drug-driving laws needed significant changes to prevent innocent people being caught up in the imprecise legislation.

‘The issue is that the current testing regime does not measure impairment; it simply detects the presence of the drug in saliva,’ Mr Bolt said.

‘This is an issue because cannabis, for example, can be detected for two days. ‘We’ve had a number of clients who assured us, and it was accepted by the court, that they had taken the drugs more than 24 hours before they were tested.’

Echonetdaily has reported previously that Lismore magistrates David Heilpern and Jeff Linden have both questioned the effectiveness of the testing regime given that THC can be detected days, if not weeks, after use.

Mr Bolt said laws on drug driving should closely mirror drink-driving laws, which measure an acceptable level of intoxication.

‘There needs to be more sophisticated testing around the levels of THC because at present even the smallest amount is being detected, including people who have been eating hemp seeds,’ he said.

‘Yet there is no testing for people taking strong prescription medications, such as codeine, that might effect their driving ability. It doesn’t make sense.

‘If the point is road safety, then there should be consistency across the board,’ Mr Bolt said.



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  1. Marijuana has been mankinds companion plant for centuries and has been responsible for zero deaths in its over 10,000 years of recorded use. The outlawing of marijuana constitutes a crime against humanity. Any politician who supports its continued prohibition is a criminal who should be immediately removed from power and any police officer who unquestioningly supports legislation outlawing it it lacks the intelligence and moral fiber to be suitable for employment in the police force.

    To hell with these criminal politicians and to hell with supporting this corrupt system.

    Enough is enough.

  2. Why don’t they bust people for real crimes like anything involving rape, murder and other violence? Or what about the corporate laws that involve big assaults on the environment and the protection of the people who are suffering from CSG? Why not work harder at busting the graffiti punks? There is a lot of damage being done to the environment that is being overlooked, can’t these morons focus their energy on solving real crimes rather than metaphorically shooting mosquitoes with machine guns?

  3. I have lived in the United Arab Emirate for 6 years and can draw a stark comparison between the policing here and that I have experienced and observed in Australia generally. Policing here seems more about detective work and solving cases, whereas policing in Australia appears to me to be a lazy sweep of the population for personal infringements. There is no sense here that police are out to get you, like there is now in Oz with the use of sniffer dogs and random stops. How did Australia become a citizen trap ruled by these highly resourced bouncers?

    • Because we followed the USA on their war or drugs, and now the USA is changing, with many states and cities now allowing cannabis for recreational use and selling it! Aus will follow suit, but it may take 5-10 yrs for our sheepish politicians to get enough courage to do it, and it’ll probably be the tax benefits that kick them into action, they are so slow and ‘dopey’.

      • Jennie,
        It is a little simplistic and a tad misleading to state “and now the USA is changing, with many states and cities now allowing cannabis for recreational use and selling it”.
        The reality of the situation is, under (an overriding) federal law in the U.S. the use, sale and possession of marijuana is illegal. However, several States have passed laws, effectively announcing they won’t prosecute users possessing small amounts of the drug – typically a few ounces.
        But only four States have legalised cannabis (which relies on the good will of the Feds not to prosecute possession of small amounts for personal use). Several more states (around 10 or so) have legalised “medical cannabis”, and around an equal number have “decriminalised” possession of small amounts for personal use.
        But there is a something of a quantum leap between “decriminalising” and “legalising” the possession of a small quantity of the substance.
        And what are your specifics on the “many states” now allowing the **selling** of cannabis, please?

  4. So what, 50% is better than nothing! Science is always imprecise. If the dogs can detect half the junkies around it’s enough to deter most of the others. But there’s no accounting for stupidity, is there?

    • You really think some dogs every now and then will deter junkies? Addicts will still do what they do no matter what, because they are ADDICTED! Can’t you understand addiction is a health issue and not a criminal issue. I dont see them going around targeting people who are drunk everyday walking around town, but that’s an OK addiction is it? Because it is harmless alcohol? WTH….Or people who smoke tobacco all day, they are addicted but that’s ok is it, because it’s so harmless… Weed on the other hand is so nasty and destructive.

      Prohibition has failed, miserably. Cops are just doing what they are told, but laws need to be changed and soon, too many innocent people are being harassed for no reason, just for walking the streets.

      Sure, target ice dealers and producers, but end users? What the hell is that going to achieve, lets give another person a criminal conviction and ruin their life more, maybe send them to jail and make it even harder for them to get back into a working society.

      Look at America and how many places are fully legalising cannabis, they are making killings in tax and it’s going back into the community, you know things like hospitals, roads, schools, keeping the place clean etc etc. Instead we are wasting money on paying cops and their dogs to intimidate end users. What a joke!

      The stupidity is the laws and the people who think sniffing a bunch of normal people will actually do anything to solve any social issues, that is stupidity at its finest.

  5. If current police drug-dog practices even slightly increases the chance of the motorist travelling towards me being more or less on the same planet as myself, then I say “go for it”.
    What is a better outcome: somebody who has recently “self-medicated” saying “I might be in strife if stopped, so maybe I had better err on the side of caution”; or the same person saying “I won’t be stopped because drug detector dogs have been discontinued because they aren’t 100% accurate”?
    Hey, on the basis of that argument, is the author seriously suggesting roadside breath testing for alcohol should be discontinued because the “blow-into-the-tube-until-I-say-stop, please sir” equipment often gives a different reading to the equipment in the booze bus.
    Thanks anyway, but I’ll settle for a preference of “we have enough run-of-the-mill crazies on the road already, and it is a definite plus if we can even marginally discourage the chemically-induced crazies from the mix” (even if the copper is giving his mutt secret Masonic signs for it to give false positives on drivers that have only been nibbling on hemp seeds!
    Surely seeing the copper give his pooch a masonic handshake would be a dead giveaway, anyway. :>

  6. Here’s a list of studies and research concerning marijuana and driving, many were funded by various national governments:

    “Marijuana has a measurable yet relatively mild effect on psychomotor skills, yet it does not appear to play a significant role in vehicle crashes, particularly when compared to alcohol. Below is a summary of some of the existing data.”

    “There was no indication that cannabis by itself was a cause of fatal crashes.”

    REFERENCE: Washington, DC: US Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Report No. DOT HS 808 065, K. Terhune, 1992.

    “Drivers under the influence of marijuana retain insight in their performance and will compensate when they can, for example, by slowing down or increasing effort. As a consequence, THC’s adverse effects on driving performance appear relatively small.”

    REFERENCE: U.S. Department of Transportation study, 1993

    “Evidence from the present and previous studies strongly suggests that alcohol encourages risky driving whereas THC encourages greater caution”

    REFERENCE: University of Adelaide study, 1995 

    “There is no evidence that consumption of cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for traffic crash fatalities or injuries for which hospitalization occurs, and may reduce those risks.. The more cautious behavior of subjects who have received marijuana decreases the impact of the drug on performance, whereas the opposite holds true for alcohol.”

    REFERENCE: Marijuana: On-Road and Driving-Simulator Studies; Epidemiologic Reviews 21: 222-232, A. Smiley, 1999.

    “Both simulation and road trials generally find that driving behaviour shortly after consumption of larger doses of cannabis results in (i) a more cautious driving style; (ii) increased variability in lane position (and headway); and (iii) longer decision times. Whereas these results indicate a ‘change’ from normal conditions, they do not necessarily reflect ‘impairment’ in terms of performance effectiveness since few studies report increased accident risk.”

    REFERENCE: UK Department of Environment, Transport and the Regions (Road Safety Division), 2000.

    “At the present time, the evidence to suggest an involvement of cannabis in road crashes is scientifically unproven”.

    REFERENCE: G. Chesher and M. Longo, 2002.

    “Cannabis alone, particularly in low doses, has little effect on the skills involved in automobile driving. Cannabis leads to a more cautious style of driving. However it has a negative impact on decision time and trajectory. This in itself does not mean that drivers under the influence of cannabis represent a traffic safety risk”

    REFERENCE: Canadian Senate Special Committee on Illegal Drugs, 2002.

    “The evidence to suggest an involvement of cannabis in road crashes is scientifically unproven.”

    REFERENCE: Franjo Grotenhermen, MD and Ethan Russo, MD (Haworth Press 2002).

    “There was a clear relationship between alcohol and culpability. In contrast, there was no significant increase in culpability for cannabinoids alone.”

    REFERENCE: Accident Analysis and Prevention 32(5): 613-622. Longo, MC; Hunter, CE; Lokan, RJ; White, JM; and White, MA. (2000)

    “Although cognitive studies suggest that cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested that it can have the opposite effect.”

    U.S. National Library of Medicine, 2009

    “Although cognitive studies suggest that cannabis use may lead to unsafe driving, experimental studies have suggested that it can have the opposite effect.”
“No differences were found during the baseline driving segment (and the) collision avoidance scenarios,”

    REFERENCE: Research published in the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, 2010
“20 years of study has concluded that marijuana smokers may actually have fewer accidents than other drivers.”

    Kindly google: “why-marijuana-users-are-safe-drivers”

    “The study found that those with a blood alcohol level of 0.12% were over 30 times more likely to get into a serious accident than someone who’s consumed any amount of cannabis. .. The least risky drug seemed to be cannabis and benzodiazepines and Z-drugs.”

    REFERENCE: Accident Analysis & Prevention; Volume 59, October 2013, Pages 346–356

    Acute cannabis consumption and motor vehicle collision risk:

    “There is no evidence that consumption of cannabis alone increases the risk of culpability for traffic crash fatalities or injuries for which hospitalization occurs, and may reduce those risks.”

    REFERENCE: British Medical Journal, 1999; M. Bates and T. James Blakely


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