We traveled to the Nimbin MardiGrass to see the roadside drug testing in action and to talk to experts as well as locals about how these laws are affecting everyday Australians.
Please sign the petition here to end discrimination against medicinal cannabis patients in Australian drug driving laws.
If you prefer to read, below is the transcript of the entire episode for you.
Policeman: Alright mate, what I need you to do, is run this from the back of your tongue to the front of your tongue.
Policeman: On the top of your tongue … top of your tongue, from the back to the front.
Get plenty of saliva on this .. there are 3 little prongs there
Yep, that’s it. Wipe it backwards and forwards.
Yep, that’s it. Not too hard, you’ll geg mate. Don’t do it too hard. OK? You’ll end up gagging.
That’s it. The test takes about three minutes.
Chloe Jean: Hello and welcome to Cannabis Broadcasting.
We are here today heading into the Mardi Grass.
We are here at a random roadside drug testing facility located on the main road into Nimbin today.
We’re going to take a drive around, we’ve got a chartered bus with us.
What we’re going to find is these random roadside drug tests are actually located on every road that’s coming into Nimbin for this festival.
So we’re going to explore this a little bit further on the Cannabis Broadcasting Network. Roadside Drug Testing, how accurate is it, and how random is it as well?
Policeman: OK mate, all good. Keep going
Passengers in the bus: That’s it .. oh, nice score, guys, you’ve done well.
They haven’t pulled over a single car since they pulled us in. No, they haven’t.
We’re going to be speaking to Ex Magistrate, David Heilpern on the effects that roadside drug testing, an inaccurate roadside drug testing are having on the community and everyday people who need to live and work.
We have conducted over 220,000 (per year in NSW) roadside drug tests currently, and we have not seen
any change in the road toll in general.
We will discuss this in detail with David Heilpern a little bit later in the show.
And this is a big issue for everybody. It’s not just for the recreational user.
We are moving into medicinal cannabis and this will affect a lot of people and their ability to, one, heal themselves and to be an active, participating member of our communities.
If you drive with THC in your system, you are guilty
David Heilpern: Even if you were using the THC under a prescription or even if you were using the THC because it was part of the new programme where you can buy over the counter from a chemist, it doesn’t matter how … even if the THC is in your system because …
Steve Bolt: You smoked it in Canberra and you flew to Brisbane.
David Heilpern: Yes. You smoked it in Canberra you flew to Brisbane or you smoked it in Portugal a few days ago or … pre Covid.
It doesn’t matter how it got into your system.
If it’s in your system, you’re guilty.
Is Random Roadside Drug Teasting random?
Chloe Jean: And thank you for joining us back at Green Market CBN, we’re here with Ex Magistrate David Heilpern to discuss the Random Roadside Drug testing.
Dave, I have noted being a local community member we have got random drug roadside drug testing on every entrance into Nimbin today.
Do you feel that’s random?
David Heilpern: No, clearly it’s not random.
And when parliament passed these laws, they intended it to be random. On behalf of all of the criminals
on the north coast, those who are committing acts of domestic violence. Those who are robbing people, those who are stealing, those who are committing serious crime – I’d like to thank the police for totally concentrating on the victimless crimes of Nimbin.
Chloe Jean: Exactly right.
And victimless crimes is something we will explore a little bit further in the show with you there, Dave.
Now, I know that you were a Magistrate in the Lismore area. What are the knock-on effects of today’s RDT campaign?
David Heilpern: Well, the knock-on effects are that there will be the usual full court day set aside for all of those who are busted coming into or leaving the festival with minuscule amounts of cannabis in their saliva that don’t impact adversely upon their driving.
If they do, they would be charged with a much more serious offence of driving under the influence.
Now, when I was a magistrate here for 10 years in Lismore, I didn’t see a single person charged with driving under the influence as a result of Mardi Grass.
All I saw was a lot of people charged with driving with a detectable level, the much more minor offence.
And it’s a tragedy.
It’s a tragedy for those people.
I’ve spoken to people today who have significant medical conditions, who are on medicinal cannabis with prescriptions, some from doctor Teh, some from Dr. Jamie Rickcord, who’ve been busted for driving with detectable levels.
And it’s no defence to say, oh, I’ve got a prescription.
These are people taking legal medicine and yet their lives will be really seriously, adversely affected.
They’ll lose their licence for three months.
They may lose their job, they may lose their house all for something that is just no harm to the community and not a crime to take.
If I had a dollar for every person who said to me, but I’ve got a prescription, I keep it in the glove box.
And then when the policeman pulls me over on the way to Mardi Grass, I can say it doesn’t matter if I test positive because I’ve got a prescription for it.
It doesn’t matter. It’s no defence and it’s no defence in New South Wales.
It’s no defence in Queensland.
If you’re found with a minor quantity in New South Wales, the test cut off is five nanograms.
That’s 5000 millionth of a gram in your saliva.
Then you lose your licence.
Is there evidence to suggest that Roadside Drug Testing has improved road safety?
Chloe Jean: Going back to the Roadside Drug Testing.
Is there evidence to suggest that Roadside Drug Testing has improved road safety?
There is nobody who’s even arguing that that roadside drug testing has reduced the road toll or has stopped road trauma.
All of the road safety agencies, all of the police services, all of the research into this, there is just no evidence that the road toll has been reduced.
Now, that was not the case with the introduction of random breath testing, for example.
Visually, of course, there was a massive drop-off that was not the case with 50 kilometers an hour speed limits in suburban areas.
That is not the case with seatbelts. Now, it is not the case with airbags, we saw a mass reduction in the road toll as a result of those true road safety issues.
But what we’ve not seen is any reduction of the road toll as a result.
For example, in New South Wales, 220,000 tests per year, 8,000 plus people losing their licences.
That’s the result of this ridiculous law.
Chloe Jean: Yes, absolutely.
And we will be talking to a Dr Teh about this a little bit later on as well.
The fact that patients now begin to heal themselves, they are now moving back into the workforce, active community members who are now unable to drive and participate in the community because of this situation currently.
Who funds the roadside drug testing campaign?
Next question, who funds the roadside drug testing campaign?
And did the police benefit from completing roadside drug tests?
David: In New South Wales, the random drug testing regime is funded out of road safety dollars.
So that’s money that would ordinarily be spent on.
Road safety campaigns on fencing, on black spots, on all sorts of things that actually do increase the safety of the roads.
That money is directly funding the tests and funding the police on a per-test basis.
So the police budget is increased by the tests that are done.
Now, that, of course, creates a conflict of interest.
It’s no wonder the police service isn’t opposed to these tests, despite the fact that there’s no evidence of efficiency.
Chloe Jean: So it’s worth mentioning if you do get done for a roadside drug test, you will be initially swabbed on the side of the road.
The second process is where your saliva will be analysed by the machine called the Drager 5000.
And the third process is where it goes to a lab for final testing.
Can RDT detect pharmaceutical medications as well?
Dave, would you be able to advise us? Can the Drager 5000 detect pharmaceutical medications as well?
David: Look it can, but they toggle a switch so that it doesn’t.
And of course, this is really an important point.
People who use medicinal cannabis tend to use less pharmaceutical drugs.
The presence of pharmaceutical drugs, except cannabis, is not a crime.
So what really is being encouraged is a return to pharmaceuticals, which have known adverse impacts on driving.
Now we’ve got a lot of enraged community members and definitely patients. How does the little person go about voicing their opinion in regards to this situation?
Look, the best first place to go to is Drive Change.
If you Google Drive Change and Honalee there is a crew of dedicated people working up a campaign to lobby politicians to change this silly law.
It’s being supported by industry. It’s being supported by patients, and it’s being supported by thousands of people visiting this site and offering to assist.
There is no way there can be a functioning medicinal cannabis industry in Australia while the drug driving laws stay as they are now.
Just for example, everyone’s raving about over the counter CBD.
It’s fantastic. Let’s support it.
But they are going to allow one percent THC in that.
Now, what does that mean?
That means that people who are using this over counter medicine can’t drive.
I think there is a really small percentage of the adult community in Australia who are able to live without a driver’s licence.
If that’s your client base, then go for it.
But if you want to be able to drive and take medicinal cannabis, then the laws simply have to change.
Chloe Jean: Exactly.
David, and thank you very much for your time today.
I do look forward to chatting to you further, particularly around the Portugal study and some more evidence that you have presented this weekend.
But for the moment, stick with us we are going to explore this in more depth.
We are at the moment with this regulation clamping both medicinal cannabis as a medicine and a budding industry for Australia and our revenue.
Chloe Jean: How do you feel about the roadside drug testing? Do you feel it’s random
with this occasion?
Caroline: No, of course not. There are 100 cops in town. I don’t know some enormous amount.
So, of course, it’s not fair.
Chloe Jean: The second time this weekend our charter bus has just been drug tested, so it’s a clear and obvious sign here today in particular at the Nimbin Mardi Grass, day number 2, Sunday, the day of the big parade, we have found out that there is roadside drug testing units north, south and east and west of Nimbin.
It does raise the question that are these drug testing units random?
And if so, why are there four of them located around Nimbin on a community celebration day?
Micheal Balderstone: Roadside drug testing has honestly become a nightmare for cannabis users.
And we joked about it in Nimbin.
I remember 20 years ago saying, yeah, we’ll ride horses and all this stuff, you know, and sort of had our head in the sand thinking it wouldn’t really happen anyway the bloody thing arrived a few years ago.
And I can tell you, Mardi Grass, the numbers dropped in half in the first year.
And then the baker tells me they dropped in half every year for a few years.
Chloe Jean: Michael Balderstone, another amazing Mardi Grass. Can you tell us what do you feel about the random roadside drug testing? Is it impacting this event?
It’s the one big nightmare, you know, and the stories today, the people who are being busted, people who even didn’t smoke for a bit, and the anxiety from people who deliberately didn’t smoke or didn’t use their medicine makes them a dangerous driver, too.
And i’ve actually felt … because I’ve talked to everyone how did you find the cop’s attitude?
And the cops in the cars seem to be nice to everyone.
So it’s the authorities up top that are just, you know, pushing them.
And what it’s done is turning everyone against all the cops. And I know they’re different departments, but, you know, there’s always hate the cops.
The cops have been great at Mardi Grass.
Chloe Jean: And it’s worth mentioning …
Micheal Balderstone: the cops in the cars have been it’s very distasteful.
Chloe Jean: Absolutely. And it’s worth mentioning the police are just doing their jobs. This comes down to law reform. This is the most important part of it is starting to have this discussion
It is a medicine.
It’s an industry.
Why are we still using roadside drug testing?
Has this affected the businesses in the community here?
Micheal Balderstone: It’s affected them.
And, you know, we get hundreds of enquiries from medical cannabis, as soon as they hear that it might not be safe driving… 50 percent won’t try, just like that.
Chloe Jean: And that’s my argument. We have got a medicine here.
We are having people who are healing themselves.
They have the ability to go back to work and become functioning members of the community.
What’s holding them back from becoming functioning members of the community is an unfair and an unjust roadside drug testing law that tests for a trace, not an impairment.
So while we are here rioting for the right for legal cannabis and law reform, we need to also be looking at the current laws in place that are not allowing this industry to expand.
How RDT effect Australians – Margaret’s Story
David Heilpern: Here we are now with another session on drunk driving.
But it is a really, really important issue.
Margaret lives in a tiny habloit west of Lismore that we’ll call Tabulam.
Margaret is a single mom of two high school-aged children.
And like everyone else, she needs her licence to work.
She suffers from chronic pain.
Some of the medications that she had been on led to sleepiness, led to tiredness, led to lack of concentration, and led to her not enjoying her life with a lot of side effects.
She’d previously been under a mental health plan and sought counseling and therapy, but 12 months ago was prescribed cannabis as a medicine and her life changed even though it was costing her two hundred and sixty dollars per month.
She describes the cannabis drops as worth every cent.
She sleeps a solid six hours per night.
Her chronic pain and insomnia is completely in hand, and there are no noticeable side effects.
When she can not quite afford the two hundred and sixty dollars a month, she lowers her use and she knows that by lowering that use, many of the symptoms come back. On the 1st of August 2020. Margaret was driving to work when she was pulled over by the local police and she tested positive to THC.
She lost her licence for three months as a result, she just lost her job cleaning at the local club.
The reason she lost her job is because it was a drug-related offence and it was against the club’s policy.
She could have taken it to court and fought the three-month suspension, but there was no legal aid for that.
And she was told her chances were not great before that particular Magistrate.
So she’s lost her job. She’s now on welfare with a work test, finding it very hard to pay the rent each month.
She can’t afford medicinal cannabis at all and is back on the prescription drugs that make that doesn’t work, that have side effects, that make her tired, and eventually, she hopes to get her licence back.
What are the lessons from from Margaret’s story?
These laws are insane.
They are just crazy.
There was no impairment by Margaret.
She was no danger to anyone.
And yet that is a true story of someone who these drunk driving laws affect.
And that’s what we need to change.
People who use cannabis as a medicine should never drive, whether they are under the influence and weaving all over the road in a danger to the community.
That’s not what this is about. That’s not what these laws are about. They’re about stopping the state from taking away people’s licences who are no risk to anyone in the community.
So, Tom, would you like to start? Tell us a little about what you’re doing with drive change.
Tom Brown: Sure. Thank you, David.
My name is Tom Brown.
I’m the co-founder of hanalee.com.au, it’s a cannabis education platform and I’m also a co-founder of
the Cannabis Law Reform Alliance.
And Drive Change and really to talk about drive change and how discriminatory and outrageous the drug driving laws are, particularly for medical patients.
You know, we were using this as a platform later today to talk on a panel about how what the drive change campaign is and how we can kind of bring everyone together, patients, industry, politicians, government together under one voice to help change these discriminatory laws.
We sat down with about five people and started.
We said, you know, if we had one message, one voice, it’s really rare that you hear one voice from everyone.
And David has that platform.
So if we had one message in one voice, we might be able to make a difference.
And so we came up with Drive Change.
And our message is to create equal rights for legal medicinal cannabis patients.
Dr Alex Wodak: Well, thank you, David, for opening this session and reminding us that this law is fundamentally about individual people and that’s something we have to bear in mind constantly.
Yes, it’s about principles.
It’s about cost-effectiveness. It’s about all sorts of things.
But fundamentally, this is something these are laws first passed in the world in Victoria in 2004 and then metastasised, (as we would say in medicine, the term we use when cancer spreads throughout the body) to all jurisdictions in Australia, with the ACT being the most recent, and these laws devastate people’s lives for no good reason.
Why am I fundamentally, there are many, many reasons to detest the roadside drug testing laws.
But the most important reason for me, even though I’m not a lawyer, is because it grossly offends the principle and the two Davids will correct me here because this is legal territory.
It offends the Blackstone principle that better that 10 guilty men go free than one innocent man is man is punished.
David Shoebridge: And we’re talking here about justice and core issues about justice.
And we need to keep it out of our mind that whenever we’re talking about these kinds of issues, police abuse of powers, police discretion, core issues of injustice, it’s First Nations communities that often get it toughest and you would know that many First Nations communities are seeing literally all their licences ripped
out of communities by stupid laws like this, then facing imprisonment and further criminal penalty.
And that drives those appalling statistics.
So I pay my respects to elders and we must walk with First Nations peoples in reversing these kind of crap laws.
Cannabis doctor and Ex Federal Police Commissioner on Driving Laws and Cannabis
Dr John Teh: I have a lot of patience myself, and driving always comes up.
Mick Palmer: Yep.
Dr John Teh: Driving and and cannabis and they think, oh well, I’ve come here, I’ve done this properly.
I’ve seen my doctor.
I’ve got an approval from the government.
I’m good to go.
And then I say, well, there’s a small but, it’s still illegal to drive with any amount of THC in your system.
Look, I know that you may not be impaired.
And look, generally, after eight hours, eight hours after any sort of dose of cannabis, you’re not impaired.
Your reactions are fine, your reflexes are fine.
You’re good at driving, but it still is illegal to drive.
And that can be a game changer for a lot of these patients.
A lot of patients have not taken treatment and remained in pain or suffering because they’re
worried about that little but.
What do you think about that but?
Mick Palmer: Well, I mean, I think that the laws are faulty at the moment.
We focussed … the whole idea of driving laws across the board, drinking/drugs, driving laws is to increase the safety on our roads.
And that means we’re focussing on impairment caused by whatever the drug or drink is that we’re taking, which is why we have 05 limitations and the like.
We haven’t addressed it anywhere near properly enough in regard to drunk driving.
And it’s been a simplistic approach that if you take drugs as an easy way to solve a problem, if you like, so as well as getting the odd impaired driver, we’re picking up a lot of people, as you say, that are impaired, that they simply have traces of THC in their blood, which may be from eight or 10 days ago.
We still haven’t addressed it anywhere near enough, we’re not you know, the focus has to be and should be on impairment.
The whole idea. I understand the philosophy. Of course, we are concerned about the toll on our roads and, of course, the need to be doing something constructive about it.
But the approach we’ve taken at the moment is clumsy, doesn’t it doesn’t focus on addressing the issue,
but rather just … you know what canvassing.
Chloe Jean: How do you find the random roadside drug testing? How does that affect an event like this and the community?
Random Roadside Drug Testing is NOT about road safety
Kathleen: Yeah, well, I hate to admit it because it is what the authorities want, but definitely, it’s had a big impact on Mardi Grass, RDT as you can see today, there’s still a lot of people here.
So a lot of people are brave or not so much brave of being smart about how they’re conducting themselves.
For example, just because it’s a cannabis festival doesn’t mean it’s just for people that consume cannabis.
It’s an amazing plant with a lot of uses.
And so, for instance, I have a lot of friends who come here, do not consume cannabis.
So they’re additionally helpful. And in this time, because they become our drug-free drivers.
Yeah, we are (bypasser: Free the Weed) … Indeed.
To me, of course, the main thing with RDT is this strange zero tolerance to do with some drugs.
They are not testing for impairment.
So the message that goes out to the general public, it’s all about, you know, road safety.
Unfortunately, it’s not because they’re not testing for impairment.
And in fact, if you are charged with having the presence of THC in your system, that is what you’re charged with.
You’re not charged with being a bad driver.
So that’s the big injustice. Australia is unique and the world’s first in a lot of things,
as we were told all the time.
So we are indeed the world first in this kind of repression, weirdly, of indeed a drug that is now legally prescribed.
So, for instance, as we know, we can take all sorts of other legally prescribed drugs that may impair our driving.
But unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that you get the same horror, horrifying consequences.
RDT is based on ‘voodoo sicnece’
Dr Alex Wodak: The second reason why I find these laws so offensive is that they are based on voodoo science.
The effect on driving ability is arguable.
It’s not black and white.
And there are prestigious, reputable authors who’ve looked at all the literature and who have said that the impairment in driving ability and also epidemiologically is minimal or even less than that, including some very reputable US authorities.
So I’m also vehemently against this legislation on the grounds that it’s crap science, it’s crap science, because it argues or assumes that detectable presence of a drug is somehow equivalent to impairment without any test of impairment.
I wouldn’t have had a smoke for at least 3 days .. I need you to come with me.
Medical Cannabis patients are scared of driving
Chloe Jean: So I believe you are from Queensland, is that right?
Chloe Jean: And how did you find getting to the event today?
Max: It was … everything was OK, but all the RDT’s that were going around, just little heart attacks every time you drive past.
Chloe Jean: And how many did you go through, or did you witness between, say, Brisbane and here?
We had a we did a bit of like travelling while we were around here, but we passed five in total.
How does it make you feel as a driver approaching something like that?
It’s a bit scary.
Like, you know, I’m I’m a user, but for medical reasons and mental health reasons.
And I don’t want to be caught for taking medicine that actually helps. It’s a positive impact on my life, essentially, and saying that I’m like, done something wrong, but I haven’t done something wrong.
Chloe Jean: Exactly.
And that’s unnecessary, unnecessary anxiety on patients and people who are trying to just live and operate
within their local community.
Thank you so much for your time today.
Max: Thank you. You have a great day.
David Heilpern: We won at Bentley. We can win this one, too.
Chloe: We are here with Ray a local community member. I believe you’ve just been done on the roadside drug testing today.
Ray: Yes. They called it a random breath test and straight out to give you a drug swab, and that’s not random.
Chloe Jean: I noticed that the other day they introduced with a random breath test. But the secondary component to that breath test is actually a mouth swab, is that correct?
Ray: Absolutely. And I said to the officer, I said, this is not quantitative.
And she said, what do you mean? I said, well, you know, I could have had pot two weeks ago.
And this is not right. She didn’t care.
Chloe Jean: And this is this traces thing versus impairment.
So we do need to start having this conversation. Why have we got a drug testing law that test for traces and not impairment?
Ray: And yesterday they pulled over 19 people. So all these police involved, they only got 19.
It’s just not… It’s just harassment I’d say..
Chloe Jean: I’m very interested to see the costs for this operation versus the revenue that is actually raised from it.
And it’s a very interesting point that we if we can, we’re going to look in further.
But the more we dig around here, it’s harder to find independent research on these subjects.
Ray: Yes, absolutely. But it hasn’t paid for itself, that’s for sure.
Chloe Jean: Exactly right.
So at this point, it does look like a discriminatory target, too, a community that is supportive of cannabis.
And by no means does consumption of cannabis a prerequisite for this community.
Thanks Ray for your time.
Ray: Thank you.
Chloe Jean: Food, nutrition, textiles, carbon capture and medicine is Cannabis the saving grace for humanity, stick with its on Green Market and we’ll find out more.