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April 12, 2021

Critics question police response to road-side drug testing

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Police conduct road-side tests in Lismore. (pic Darren Coyne)
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Darren Coyne

Medical cannabis campaigners have questioned a NSW Police response to a freedom of information request aimed at revealing the ‘science’ behind the roadside drug-testing regime.

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge had lodged the application on 22 April this year, with information expected by 20 May.

An extension was granted to the 18 June, and police finally delivered their response on 25 June.

Medical cannabis campaigner Dr Andrew Kavasilas, who is in Canada at present, told Echonetdaily that he ‘thought bits were missing’ from the response when he first read it.

‘It’s as if they’ve spent six weeks wondering how they would answer the questions and in the end they sent some chopped up operating manuals and did some redactions before sending their response to the Greens,’ he said.

The Echonetdaily reported last week that a third of drivers subjected to road-side drug testing in the northern rivers during a recent road safety campaign, who were found to be positive, then tested negative when taken to the testing bus.

In the Richmond and Tweed/Byron local area commands, 1,376 drug tests were carried out, with 174 positives, and 72 false positives.

Police later supplied state-wide figures showing 30,556 drug tests were carried out, with 2,382 drivers testing positives.

Echonetdaily was told no figures were available for ‘false positives’ at a statewide level.

Critics of the testing regime have long argued that the tests are picking up minute traces of THC, while ignoring prescription drugs known to impair a driver’s abilty.

They also argue that the consumption of hemp seed, oil, or medical marijuana products could result in positive results, despite a changing of the political landscape which is increasingly recognising the benefits of medical marijuana.

Dr Kavasilas, who was found guilty recently after failing a roadside drug test, is set to appeal his conviction in the NSW District Court on 27 July.

When asked about minimum threshold amounts being tested, NSW Police said ‘advice received from the Traffic Policy Section that the NSWPF holds no documents or other materials’ that would satisfy the request.

Police gave the same response to questions relating to whether the tests detected hemp products such as hemp oil and hemp seeds, and whether the tests detected prescription drugs such as methadone and benzodiazapines.

In response to questions about research or studies showing a relationship between a driver’s impairment and the presence of detectable illicit substances in saliva, police said research and studies relied upon by police were ‘drawn from published scientific journals that exist in the public domain’.

Police also admitted they held no documents or research regarding the length of time that cannabis would remain in saliva, and how long it could potentially impair driving.

Nimbin Hemp Embassy president Michael Balderstone said anecdotal evidence suggested drivers were turning to other drugs beside cannabis because they could not be detected.


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  1. “Police also admitted they held no documents or research regarding the length of time that cannabis would remain in saliva, and how long it could potentially impair driving.”

    This is pure BS. First whether there is any impairment to driving stoned is highly debatable. A recnet study by USA govt dept said there was none. For example the Olaf Drummer study in Victoria that has been used to justify the current roadside testing did not account for demographics. Young male drivers are involved in more accidents and are more likely to be cannabis users. This is a correlation not causal associaton. When accounted for Drummers and others negative impact on driving disappears.

    BUT FOR THE SAKE OF ARGUMENT LET US AGREE BEING STONED DOES IMPAIR DRIVING ABILITY. It is established fact that no one is impaired three hours after their last smoke of cannabis.

    Studies have been done on the Drager Roadside drug test equipment. I found them easily using google. Participants smoked a 6.5% THC content cannabis joint. The median time (1/2 positive 1/2 negative) for occasional users was twelve hours, for frequent users twenty-one hours, for chronic users more than four weeks.

    As an aside in the study by Sandra Heipern on chronic marijuana users 178 out of 178 stated they drove safer under the influence of cannabis. This is fascinating anecdotal evidence that can only mean one of two things. The first time in history that a drug can cause a mass delusion. An incredible psychological manifestation worthy of study in its own right. Two what the 178 are stating is true.


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