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Byron Shire
May 11, 2021

Govt under fire for pill-testing stance and roadside swabs

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Police testing drivers in Lismore. (Darren Coyne)
Police testing drivers in Lismore. (Darren Coyne)

The state government’s hard-line stance against pill-testing at festivals and ‘propaganda’ over its controversial roadside drug-testing regime has come under attack following the latest police operation in which drivers in Lismore and Murwillumbah were charged after saliva tests.

And the Nimbin-based HEMP Embassy says there’s an urgent need for lawmakers to separate cannabis from other, much harder drugs, and treated as the medicinal herb it is, especially with governments trialling it as such.

The NSW Greens this week slammed deputy premier and police minister Troy Grant for ‘showing his naivety and lack of knowledge’ on the proposed pill-testing trials in a radio interview, and the fact not one NSW Liberal or National MP attended yesterday’s Parliamentary Drug Summit in Canberra.

The Canberra Declaration, which came out of the summit, showed clear support for a trial of pill testing, or drug checking, at music festivals and other events.

Police say its roadside drug-testing operation throughout the state on Sunday resulted in more than 130 drivers ‘detected allegedly drug driving’, but there is no breakdown in the figures of which drug was detected.

The contentious saliva-swiping testing does not measure driver impairment and only detects the presence of amphetamine, ecstasy (MDMA) or cannabis, but not harder narcotics such as heroin or the drug of choice of the rich, cocaine.

Critics have slammed the testing of cannabis, which, because it’s fat-soluble stays in the system for days or weeks after smoking a joint, unlike the other drugs which are water-soluble and traces disappear after about a day.

HEMP Embassy president Michael Balderstone said that several Nimbin people were caught in Lismore on Sunday for ‘drug-driving’ and ‘so we all await with interest the court cases that will come from this’.

‘The police cant help themselves it seems, trotting out the same old propaganda,’ he said, referring to comments in a police press statement on the latest operation, dubbed ‘Watchtower’.

In the statement, the state’s senior traffic policeman suggests police are an authority on the effects of cannabis and driving, despite no level of impairment measured by their tests.

Traffic and Highway Patrol commander, assistant commissioner John Hartley, said that ‘With drug drivers, we know that cannabis slows down reactions and reduces abilities to respond to situations’.

‘The drug changes a person’s perception of distance and time, lowers concentration, reduces coordination and can make you drowsy,’ assistant commissioner Hartley said.

‘Cannabis users often don’t realise their driving is affected until they are faced with an unexpected situation.

‘It is only after they in danger that they realise they are incapable of making a quick or correct decision’, he said.


Mr Balderstone in response said ‘Such a pity there’s not better and more honest communication between the police and the public’.

‘Respect for the laws is on the wane and they are the ones who cop it. It feels like they cant relax and speak truthfully, everything has to be written by lawyers and lobbyists.

‘Cannabis urgently needs to be separated from the other drugs and treated as the medicinal herb it is,’ he said.

Mr Balderstone said he wrote to federal Greens leader, Senator Richard Di Natale, before yesterday’s drug summit ‘trying to tell him to separate pot from the rest.

In the letter, the cannabis campaigner said ‘I think you need to separate cannabis from the other drugs’.

‘This is important. It’s ridiculous having ice and weed in the same basket, surely you agree,’ he wrote.

‘The police and other authorities continue to talk “drugs” and not identify which drug. They are so different. Cannabis is an unprocessed herb, unlike all the other drugs which are mostly chemical mixes these days.

‘And cannabis needs a special category because its good for so many other uses, like hemp-seed food now banned because of saliva testing.

‘Cannabis was the most grown plant on Earth 200 years ago I believe and its potential in restoring the environment is immeasurable. There was a famous early hippy saying, “we’ve discovered a plant that can save the world, the only problem is it’s illegal”.

‘Cannabis being fat soluble and staying in your blood and urine for months means statistics on hospital admissions and car accidents have been totally distorted.

‘The root of our roadside drug-testing problem is I think the compulsory blood testing of fatalities.

‘RDT (roadside drug testing) was introduced because of blood test figures from car accident deaths… we have to educate people about statistics being distorted and how cannabis is so different being fat soluble.

‘Cannabis should never have been made it illegal. We were lied to about its dangers as you well know, and we continue to be.

‘No one has ever died from the use of cannabis in recorded history over ten thousand years, but people are now dying from using legal synthetic “weed”.

‘Why compromise on the truth with this issue? Why do we still want to hunt, arrest and jail growers, dealers and users?

’70,000 arrests for pot last year! We have Colorado and California, and Uruguay examples to follow now, surely. We need you to fly this flag of truth and educate your fellow politicians.’

Pill testing

Meanwhile, NSW Greens MP Dr Mehreen Faruqi said deputy premier and police minister Troy Grant was naive over the issue by saying he wasn’t sure about the ‘engineering of pill-testing’ or the ‘science behind it’.

‘Yet again we see the NSW government making decisions without a scrap of evidence to back them up.

‘Pill testing, or drug checking, is about providing people with more information about what they are going to put into their body, and saving lives. It is not about absolute “guarantees” or “quality assurance”.

‘Pill testing provides information to people who are going to take drugs, and allows medical professionals to come into face-to-face contact with drug users and give them some health advice.

‘There is no evidence that pill testing would increase drug use. In fact, international evidence shows that pill-testing is a proven harm reduction tactic.

‘Deputy premier Grant says we can’t arrest our way out of the problem, but he can’t offer anything else, when we know there are safer alternatives.

‘The Greens support any action to minimise harm and save lives from harmful drugs,’ she said.

During last Sunday’s police operation, 6,574 breath tests and 1,659 drug tests were conducted, with 12 drivers charged with drink driving offences, and 133 drivers charged with ‘drug-related’ offences.

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  1. This is not a hard-line stance.
    You can’t test anything that is illegal.
    It has to go through legislation and made legal for any testing to take place
    And no one is going to do that.
    The journalists here just love putting up stupid theories here to test people.

  2. Sadly it’s the same illegality which breeds and grows criminal business and corruption.

    Breaking the cycle is the only way real change can occur.

    If you have alcohol addiction you can be honest about it, tell specialists for assistance and rehab. The current regime against drugs sadly removes that option for most people for fear of job loss or prosecution. If you look statistically at the money spent versus drug use year on year, then the picture is pretty clear.

    We have failed.

    Whats really sad is that these legislators and politicians are ignoring health expert advice on how to deal with these problems with proven methods.

  3. Sadly too many people fail to see how policies like the current random roadside drug testing (RDT) violate our civil liberties. Every year shim by shim our civil liberties are eroded. And if you complain, some people say that policies are made fairly and you’re just being a trouble maker. The fact is that many policies are not fair and many stakeholder’s’ opinions are ignored. Random roadside drug testing is sold to the public as a regime to get drug impaired drivers off the road. While it is this, it is actually something more, it is detecting recreational drug users with non-psychoactive traces of drugs in their systems (which are the metabolised remains of psychoactive drugs that do not cause impairment). When you identify and charge non-drug impaired drivers you take away their car licence and possibly their livelihood, this will hurt their whole family, is it fair to do this when it is no more than a morally driven policy? I think that most open minded people would agree that RDT should be about getting drug impaired drivers off the road. The current regime is a morally driven policy designed by zealots.


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