Igniting national debate on drug driving laws

THE first seeds in a state-wide campaign to change roadside drug testing laws were sown in Lismore on Tuesday.

Greens MLC David Shoebridge, trailed by national media crews, spent the day at Lismore Local Court where 46 drug driving charges were listed.

That evening at the Lismore Roadside Drug Testing Forum, the Greens member, joined by lawyers and activists laid down the ground rules of the nascent state-wide campaign for evidence-based roadside drug testing. Mr Shoebridge also announced he would initiate a parliamentary inquiry into roadside drug testing.

"Across the board there are a suite of drugs that impair drivers, ones that make you less safe on the road and we know what levels we should be testing for," Mr Shoebridge said.

"We should be testing for all the drugs that commonly impair drivers. We should be testing for levels that relate to impairment and if you fail that test - bang, there goes your licence, there goes a fine. You have lost your social licence because you are endangering other road users. But instead we have the NSW Police testing for just three illegal drugs - cannabis, methamphetamine and MDMA - and testing at a level that has nothing to do with impairment.

"Together with Ballina MP Tamara Smith we will use the upper and lower house to press for a parliamentary inquiry on this as soon as the parliament returns in February."

Mr Shoebridge said the issue had been brought to his attention by Northern Rivers residents who had lost their licences, jobs, connections and even houses after testing positive for cannabis.

Lismore pot precedent set

Lismore is also at the epicentre of this drug war because of a recent case at Lismore Local Court which has opened a "floodgate" line of defence for cannabis users.

On February 1, Magistrate David Heilpern found Lismore man Joseph Carrall not guilty of a drug driving offence on the grounds the defendant had "honest and reasonable belief" he did not have a detectable quantity of cannabis in his system.

Defence lawyer Steve Bolt said afterwards: "Mr Carrall was told on a previous occasion by an officer conducting a saliva test that if he waited a week there would be no cannabis detectable in his system. The second time he was tested, the test proved positive but that was nine days after he said he had last consumed cannabis.

"The court accepted that it was a truthful account and found that in that situation, it was a reasonable proposition for him to rely on what the officer had told him previously - that a week would be an acceptable period of time (to wait before driving)."

Clogging up the courts

Mr Shoebridge said he was concerned that the excessive number of drug driving cases were delaying serious matters at Lismore Local Court.

"Domestic violence, assaults, violent crime, serious road safety issues. These are the things that you want the court to be dealing with," he said.

"But the court was finding it almost impossible to get to because there were 46 drug driving charges in the court list. And in not a single one of the 46 cases did the police present a scintilla of evidence that any single one of those drivers was impaired."

Zero tolerance

SCU School of Law and Justice lecturer and forum speaker Aidan Ricketts condemned the random drug testing regime for not being evidence based and said it risked bringing "the law into disrepute".

"Unlike the alcohol laws, where there has been extensive research into the effects alcohol has on our driving and the level of impairment based on the amount of alcohol consumed, there has been insufficient research into the effects of cannabis."

However, Nationals member for Clarence Chris Gulaptis said the zero tolerance drug driving laws were all about ensuring the law was in place to save lives and reiterated "illicit drugs like cannabis is illegal, period".

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