Medical-cannabis campaigners have slammed the increasing use of roadside saliva testing by police on the north coast and across the state to fight illegal drug use, saying the devices used are inaccurate and having negative impacts.
With just over a week to go before the 23rd annual cannabis-law reform Mardi Grass festival and rally at Nimbin, the state government is being urged to re-look its saliva-testing program, which the cannabis-law-reform lobby says unfairly targets medical and recreational cannabis users and has ‘nothing to do with (driving) impairment’.
MPs and medical cannabis experts will attend the event, where some will look at the experience in the US (in which almost half its states have legalised medical cannabis), and where the issue of how to deal with saliva testing and the legal medical/recreational use of cannabis is being grappled with.
In the past few months police have conducted numerous saliva-testing operations around the northern rivers, including the Nimbin and Murwillumbah areas, with scores of drivers issued court attendance notices.
But the HEMP (Help End Marijuana Prohibition) Party says the actions are hypocritical given the government’s push to run trials for legal medical cannabis.
Party secretary Andrew Kavasilas said that ‘in spite of the NSW government leading the charge and championing the use of cannabis for various medical conditions, NSW Police have announced a scale up of the use of roadside saliva testing in an attempt to address drug use’.
‘Australia is the only country in the world to use these devices in such a manner and many questions are now being asked in parliament about the accuracy, benefits and negative consequences caused by their use,’ Mr Kavasilas said.
‘The science is well and truly in on the medical benefits of cannabis and NSW taxpayers paid for a series of inquiries more than 10 years ago which supported its use.
‘We’ve assembled some of the most knowledgeable people on the subject to highlight (at Mardi Grass) the most recent developments, setbacks and the need for drastic action by Australian governments,’ he said.
The saliva-testing issue has been also seized on by the NSW Greens, who have called for an inquiry into the use of the devices.
Medical-cannabis campaigners have also highlighted the issue of legal hemp-seed consumption which may interfere with the operation and expansion of saliva testing.
HEMP Embassy head Michael Balderstone said ’it’s the same old pick on the cannabis users who are the easy targets with our safest drug of all bulky smelly herb which dogs love and stays in your blood for weeks while other drugs are gone virtually overnight’.
‘And more hypocrisy in that there’s no science behind this saliva testing, yet police use them… when we call for research and use of cannabis for medical purposes, we’re told no because there’s not enough science,’ Mr Balderstone said.
‘We all know this roadside drug testing is not about impairment. They’re nets to get ice sharks mostly catch stoner dolphins who might have had a smoke the day or more before.’
Mardi Grass organisers say they have been impressed with actions ‘proposed to highlight the inefficiencies and negative consequences directly attributable to Australian police use of saliva testing’.
‘It’s all peaceful protests, but it shows how angry people feel about this new bullying of cannabis users,’ Mr Balderstone added.
‘I think there’s hemp food stalls being set up in Lismore and Uki offering hemp seed consumables which police claim confuse the tests.
‘I’ve also heard of notices pinned up at north coast methadone clinics seeking drivers for MardiGrass carpooling.
‘It should be easy for people finding a designated driver as everyone knows these test can’t detect opiates and methadone, as well as prescription sedatives, depressants, synthetic cannabis and a bunch of other drugs.
’As well, all other illegal drugs pass through the body much quicker than cannabis, especially ice’, he said.
Shuttle buses have been arranged by Mardi Grass organisers to take ’worried drivers’ from Byron and Lismore but suggest ‘stoners who are concerned find a mate who doesn’t smoke weed or hitch hike’.
‘It’s time we stood up to this nonsense and if you don’t use pot you can help your friends who do to have a worry free drive.
‘These dumb laws actually push people away from cannabis to risky drugs they are far less likely to get busted with.
‘But the silliest thing is bad laws just erode respect for all laws,’ Mr Balderstone said.
The Mardi Grass is also a celebration of the northern rivers’ annual marijuana harvest, some of which is destined to be used for production of medical cannabis oil or tincture, which although strictly illegal, is much in demand by relatives or friends of cancer or terminally-ill people.
The festival is held from Friday, May 1 through to Sunday, May 3. For information visit www.nimbinmardigrass.com