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Byron Shire
March 28, 2023

Criminalising non-impaired drivers is wrong

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NSW police conducting roadside testing in Lismore. (Darren Coyne)
NSW police conducting roadside testing in Lismore last year. The controversial new police power criminalises drivers who are not drug-impaired at the time but may have smoke an occasional joint of cannabis days or weeks before.

Chibo Mertiineit is quite right, the roadside drug test is not a test for impairment. (Letters, Feb 17) Indeed the roadside drug test can detect minute traces of three popular but prohibited drugs, namely cannabis, ecstasy and speed.

Minute traces of these drugs can remain in the body for hours, days, even weeks after ingestion and long after any effect has worn off. This is why many people are unsuspectingly falling foul of the roadside drug testing regime.

Many times they do not even realise they have traces in their system until the test returns positive, and it can be a devastating experience for someone who has never before been in trouble with the law and only occasionally uses drugs.

But you don’t even have to be an occasional drug user to test positive at a roadside drug test, since trace amounts can be passively inhaled or in other ways unwittingly ingested, for example by spiked drink or food. In such cases a driver may be completely unaware that they could register positive at a roadside drug test.

The police and politicians claim the roadside drug testing regime is about road safety, but clearly it is criminalising drivers who are not drug impaired at the time they are tested. Furthermore, there are no scientific or statistically valid studies that quantify and calibrate the level and nature of impairment caused by varying doses of the proscribed substances.

No doubt these drugs cause impairment above a certain dose, as do most drugs, but the current testing regime does not test for impairment. This point needs to be repeated often and loudly. It is not a test for impairment and it is therefore not a matter of road safety.

So what is the real reason for the roadside drug test? I suspect it’s a combination of ignorance, prejudice, drug war zealotry and prohibition propaganda.

Road safety is an important issue, but so too is social justice. As citizens and individuals, we have a basic human right to privacy and security of person, and we have the common law privilege against self-incrimination. These rights are enshrined in domestic and international law and cannot be violated willy-nilly by the state.

But these days, due to the appalling contempt for human rights and civil liberties exhibited by the authorities, few people even realise we have rights.

In fact I’ve been told by a police officer that I don’t have any rights. This is the sort of the attitude that prevails in the police force and the polity at large.

These days, I feel a bit like Julian Assange, living under self-imposed house arrest for fear of persecution if I go out, even though I haven’t done anything more than mind my own business.

If anyone else feels this way and would like to talk about it, please feel free to contact me at [email protected]

John Scrivener, Main Arm

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  1. Good on you Echo for publishing these articles about how absurd and discriminatory these tests are. These tests only test for cannabis, meth and ecstasy. No pharmaceuticals are tested for, no lsd, no cocaine, no heroin or any research chemicals (so called legal highs, like bath salts). In the UK the saliva tests they use test for ALL of those drugs. And the cannabis test is more lenient and doesn’t pick up such small traces.

    The NSW government and the politicians involved are over the top at present in many ways, it’s been happening for a while with things like agro policing, sniffer dogs everywhere, lock out laws, and many other new laws and regulations. Are these things actually helping? They seem to be helping make more criminals. And more money from fines.

    How on earth is is just that people who used some cannabis days prior are losing their licenses when testing positive in a roadside drug test? They are no threat to anyone. Surely this stupid system must be over turned? We are going to have massive amounts of people w/out licenses and criminal records all because the government (in NSW) seems to have a thing against cannabis (which has been time and time again to be proven a lot less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol, both of which are legal!)

    Our rights are being taken away because they wont to be strict on drugs, but it seems drugs are cheaper, more potent and more available than ever! These people in charge, making these laws must realise that things are not working, making end users of drugs criminals is not going to stop drugs! It’s just going to make it a lot harder for the people using the drugs who are caught to get back into the community and contribute. Instead some may have to resort to crime because they can no longer drive or get a decent job with a criminal record!

    In the ACT you can grow 2 cannabis plants and if you are caught it is just a civil matter and a $100 fine. In SA you can get caught with up to 100 grams of cannabis and it’s only a civil matter and between $100-$150 fine, whereas in NSW if you are caught with over 15 grams of cannabis or if you grow any plants, it is a criminal matter and you get very high fines and a CRIMINAL record.

    NSW is going in the wrong direction and it’s being shown all over social media.

    How is the ice problem going? Not good, it seems like the police are more interested in catching cannabis users/growers or end users of other drugs than actually going for the mr bigs like the importers and manufacturers. I realise the NSW police have a huge amount of cops and sniffer dogs and wont to act like they are needed so they can continue to get budget increases and more man power, but this is insane, such a waste of money for no result. It’s embarrassing.


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