During the weekend blitz targeting roadside testing for alcohol and drugs in Northern NSW almost 80 people were arrested for drink driving. However, the use of roadside drug testing (RDT) during the operation has highlighted NSW government laws that target the use of cannabis rather than its impact on driving.
The use of cannabis for recreational and medicinal purposes is flourishing – and being legalised – throughout the world yet the NSW Liberal/National government seem determined to stick with flawed roadside drug testing (RDT) methods (not to mention festivals!).
From the United States to countries across Europe governments are stepping up to the mark and finally taking a scientific and mature approach to both the use of cannabis and determining safe levels at which people can drive on the road.
Like alcohol there are tests that can determine the level of cannabis in a driver’s system. Again – like alcohol – it is up to governments, backed by science, to determine the levels that the drug is likely to have an impact on the driver’s ability to control their vehicle. Yet under current laws in NSW roadside drug testing for cannabis tests only for the presence of cannabis in the driver’s system.
Impairment not presence the issue
The Nth Coast and SE Qld RDT Locations and RDT discussion Facebook groups, which number over 20,000 members, say that they want the safest roads possible but that the presence of cannabis in a driver’s blood does not indicate impairment.
‘The equipment currently being used in saliva testing is inaccurate and unreliable, often recording false positives and negatives,’ said Gail Hester of the Medicinal Cannabis Users Association (MCUA) of Australia.
This is backed by Ballina MP Tamara Smith who recognises that the drug testing system is ‘flawed’.
‘The NSW “nanny state” government is using traffic laws to police drug use without any scientific level of impairment established,’ she told Echonetdaily.
‘Other countries that have introduced RDT first established levels of driver impairment for each substance being tested, as is done with alcohol, so that presence alone of a drug is not criminalised.
‘Cases before the courts in our area have exposed that people who had ingested marijuana weeks before they were tested, tested positive. Without a scientific benchmark for impaired driving it’s a “war on drugs” dressed up in the Traffic Act, its criminalising predominantly low-level drug-users in our area who are often from low socio-economic backgrounds and it’s inherently unfair,’ she said.
Country Labor candidate for Ballina Asren Pugh has also ‘long supported an impairment based test for roadside drug testing,’ he said.
Mr Pugh highlighted that, ‘We need a system that ensures that people are not driving while under the influence of drugs, including alcohol, and putting themselves and other road users at risk.’
All candidates and the sitting MP for the seat of Ballina said they supported police efforts to keep our roads safe. However, Nationals candidate for Ballina Ben Franklin, while having tried cannabis at university, avoided the question of drug testing. Instead he responded saying that, ‘The police are responsible for enforcing the law, which is in place for our safety – It’s all about keeping road users safe’.
‘This area has one of the highest rates of PCA [prescribed concentration of alcohol] offences in the state, which shows some local drivers are not getting the “no drink, no drugs” message’,’ he said.
Make government accountable
Highlighting the fact that the premise of the current RDT is aimed at punishing people who may have taken cannabis for either medicinal or recreational purposes the Nth Coast and SE Qld RDT Locations and RDT groups are calling for a ‘repeal of the current RDT legislation’.
‘What we want to see is the repeal of the current RDT legislation, a moratorium on all pending court cases for people charged with driving with an illicit substance (cannabis only at this stage) and an investigation into replacing the current tests for mere presence with one solely based on impairment,’ said Klav Curate one of the RDT group’s administrators.
‘None of us want people who are impaired by anything driving around, but that measure of impairment must have a sound, scientifically based foundation.’
The RDT groups are aiming to vote as a block for the candidates who will commit to getting the drug laws changed.
‘Our demographic is diverse. We have people from all age-groups, socio-economic backgrounds and careers, from different political persuasions who have joined together to vote against the government because we are fed up with the current situation,’ said Nellie Robson another of the RDT group administrators.
‘Zero tolerance is totally incompatible with our fledgling medical cannabis program and patients in these areas should not have to cease prescribed medication just so they can get to the shops or doctors appointments,’ said Ms Hester.