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Byron Shire
March 2, 2021

Minimising harm from drugs – and pollies

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Aslan Shand

From the injustice of the random drug testing (RDT) to the Liberal/National state government’s obsession with ensuring people die at festivals by refusing sensible and proven pill and drug testing, the current state elections have brought a focus on the draconian and outdated attitudes of the current government towards drugs.

The local electorates of Tweed, Lismore and Ballina are all held by around a 54/46 per cent margins – that means as little as a change of 2,000 votes away from the Nationals could give the seats of Lismore and Tweed to either a Greens or Labor candidate.

If Ballina were retained by the Greens and Tweed and Lismore gained by Greens or Labor, this could easily influence the make-up of the NSW state government – possibly giving the Greens the balance of power.

There has been significant concern over a number of issues including water mining, onerous policing of festivals, the Nationals’ and Labor’s preferred Tweed hospital sites, illegal logging leading to koala extinction and bad planning decisions when the NSW state government has overridden local councils and more.

Any of these issues could swing what is likely to be a very tight election. One strong local group with a voting membership of 20,891 spread over the three electorates is the ‘North Coast RDT Locations’ group which promotes the issue of reforming the unjust RDT regime.

Police stopping, searching and testing drivers on their way into Byron Bay. Photo Jeff ‘Cannotabis’ Dawson

Test impairment

‘Numerous north coast residents, often the young, are being convicted when there has been no impaired driving,’ said Ron Priestly, the North Coast RDT Locations moderator.

‘Drivers are banned, jobs are lost, foreign travel gets difficult and criminal records are created, impacting on the victim for life when the driver has done nothing wrong! There is no effective public transport alternative in this region for when a licence is lost.’

According to Local Magistrate David Heilpern, speaking on a case soon after the law was introduced, ‘Parliament did not intend to stop people driving or take away their licences three days or six days after they consumed cannabis’ – but this is what is happening, said Mr Priestly.

Vote for drug reform

‘The problem is the so-called saliva test or “spit test” that is being used does nothing to detect cannabis-impaired driving but merely the presence of cannabis. The cannabis involved may have been used days before the test and there is no evidence that such historic use causes impaired driving,’ he said.

The group has agreed on a ‘How to Vote card’ which puts ‘Greens 1 and Country Labor 2’ said Mr Priestly. It suggests leaving out the rest, particularly the Nationals.

The group arrived at its policy because the Greens have made a firm written policy commitment stating that they ‘Support penalties for driving with impaired cognitive or psycho-motor skills due to the consumption of alcohol and other drugs that are based on evidence and risk management.’

Mr Priestly said, ‘Country Labor have committed to raising the RDT problems in its proposed drug summit while the Nationals have not responded to requests for comment on its policy.

‘It can only be presumed that the Nationals will maintain the existing unjust system including the completely disproportionate heavy-handed policing by the police force highway patrols.

‘This is in opposition to the best scientific practice advice around the world that states that the “War on Drugs” has failed and drug policy should be managed under the health portfolio and should not primarily be a law and order issue.’


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1 COMMENT

  1. Whether the “War on Drugs” has been a success or not depends on the intent. If the intent was solving drug problems in society and restricting access then it’s been a dismal failure. If the intent was to create the 3rd largest industry in the world and massive profits for a select few then it’s been a resounding success.

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