First a disclaimer: I believe the Greens are a progressive force in Australian politics.
Which makes me shocked and saddened to learn that the Greens supported the Road Transport Drug Testing Bill that gave birth to saliva testing for cannabis when it was introduced in NSW Parliament in 2006.
This bill was dodgy from the start.
Labor’s Eric Roozendaal, Minister for Roads who introduced the bill, is quoted in Hansard (see below): ‘There will be no need for police to prove that a person’s driving was impaired. It need only be proved that the drug was present in the person’s sample.’
Eric is clear: he’s not testing for driver impairment, which is what he should be as minister for roads to make the roads safe; he’s just testing for the presence of the drug.
In her reply, the Greens’ Lee Rihanon said: ‘In relation to cannabis use, screening devices have been shown to only detect THC, which is the intoxicating element of cannabis at very high levels and the window of detection is only about one hour. The tests cannot pick up the non-active component, which stays in a person’s body for a longer period—only the active component. Therefore, those who smoke cannabis the day before will not test positive, according to the advice I have received.’
Clearly the two comments are contradictory. Eric is clearly not interested in driver impairment, just in proving the drug was present. Lee seems to think the test will only pick up cannabis at very high levels, with a one hour window, with those who have smoked the day before not testing positive.
However, the reality of roadside drug testing has shown that the tests have resulted in false positives, including positives for folks who have not smoked/consumed cannabis for a week and even positives for some who have never smoked/consumed any cannabis.
Does the test pick up ‘non-active’ components? It’s unclear.
Further, there seems to be no clear consensus on the window of safe cannabis usage. Is it one hour (Lee Rhiannon)? Or 12 hours (NSW Centre for Road Safety, Northern Star, 2 Feb)? One week (Lismore Magistrate David Heilpern/Northern Star, 2 Feb)? One month? No one seems to know for sure.
Blind Freddie can see these tests have nothing to do with the science of road safety but have more to do with discrimination against significant sections of the community that prefer cannabis to, say, alcohol, cocaine or other substances.
I won’t comment on Labor or Liberals, who have touched rock-bottom when it comes to Aussie politics.
But it astonishes me that the Greens would support legislation that was shoddy from the start and discriminatory to boot.
Then again, the Greens have shown they have a penchant for supporting other legislation which could also be construed to be non-evidence based and discriminatory, for example mandatory vaccination.
The day after tomorrow, the Greens could have an about-turn and we’ll be running forums to get folks to challenge the mandatory vaccination laws that they have been a party to enacting.
But it would be far better if the Greens got it right from the start and looked before they leapt into the dung-heap of dodgy, discriminatory legislation.
Harsha Prabhu, Byron Bay
I’m not surprised at the position of the labor roads minister, but Lee Rhianon was obviously under the mistaken impression that these devices only picked up high amounts of the active THC ingredient with only a short window of detection.
Clearly she was fed information that was not accurate. If so, then action must be taken to realign these laws with reality and common sense. Everybody metabolizes at different rates and its very hard to set a time threshold. For this reason alone, other countries have chosen not to use these types of tests for fear that they will incriminate large numbers of unimpaired people.
If this test was sensible and based on impairment detection, then I’d say there would be more adherence and acceptance by the people. It doesn’t matter when a mistake was made. 10 years ago, 20 years ago. People will remember who eventually fixes it.
Like you Harsha I’m a greenie but my and others utter frustration at the Greens not tackling the war on drugs head on has led to having a HEMP Party. Social justice is a Greens cornerstone and they are terrific on some issues but somehow drugs is like quicksand for them. The Reefer Madness propaganda has gone deep into our consciousness and there is huge uncertainty about drug use now. Big Pharma with the cops doing their dirty work has won for now but not forever. Anyway, David Shoebridge has been terrific on this saliva testing non sense and I urge everyone to support him at the Tatts Hotel in Lismore tonight at 6.30 pm and in Nimbin Hall tomorrow at 11 am.