A recently retired Northern Rivers magistrate has described the state’s roadside drug-testing laws as ‘nonsensical and cruel’, revealing that they were a major factor in his decision to hang up the gavel.
In a scathing attack on the controversial testing regime, David Heilpern told The Echo he had struggled to enforce the laws in ‘good conscience’ because he saw them as ‘extraordinarily unfair’.
‘I did what I could within the limits of being a judicial officer to ensure that the unfairness of it all was reduced to the extent that I could,’ Mr Heilpern said.
‘But it became increasingly difficult for me to apply a law that I saw as unnecessarily destroying people’s lives.
Under the State’s roadside drug testing laws, first introduced in 2006, drivers face an automatic loss of licence if they record a positive test, regardless of when and why they used the drug, and whether or not their driving was affected.
‘There’s 200,000 roadside drug tests that will take place in NSW this year,’ Mr Heilpern said.
‘Very few if any will detect people who are adversely affected by drugs.
‘It’s a detection based on minute quantities that bare no relationship with being affected.’
Mr Heilpern, who worked as a magistrate in the Northern Rivers circuit for much of his 21 years on the bench, said that the laws unfairly impacted the hundreds of thousands of people who used cannabis for medicinal purposes.
‘To punish these people for taking either prescribed or non-prescribed medicine is absurd,’ he said.
‘Every week in court I would have people literally crying because, as we know, loss of licence in the country can mean loss of job, loss of income, loss of family.
‘It is catastrophic for many people, and yet you don’t lose your licence for rape or murder, for assault or family violence offences.’
‘I’ve got a friend who’s dying of cancer and he says the worst thing is the loss of freedom to be able to drive around because he’s on a prescription for cannabis for his nausea.
‘He doesn’t want to die a criminal in court.’
The State government has, to date, been unable to provide any solid statistics demonstrating that roadside drug testing has reduced the road toll.
‘Where would the loss of political capital be in excluding those who’ve got a prescription for cannabis from the prohibition on driving with a detectable level?’ Mr Heilpern asked.
‘The only real justification that I can see is a last gasp of prohibition.
‘It is designed, in truth, to limit illicit drug use, but the measure is just extraordinarily unfair.’