Drug Driving Bill still “pretty good” – have your say by this Friday

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The Government’s new approach to drug-impaired driving has changed since I called it “pretty good“, but it’s still evidence based and seems a fair compromise.

There are a couple of days left to have your say on the Land Transport (Drug Driving) Amendment Bill. Submissions close this Friday 23rd April.

The Bill is being heard by the Transport and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by Greg “The Regulator” O’Connor. Other members are Julie Anne Genter (Greens); Labour’s Paul Eagle, Shanan Halbert, Terisa Ngobi and Helen White; National’s Chistopher Luxon and Mark Mitchell, and ACT’s James McDowall.

Many New Zealanders enjoy using cannabis regularly or on occasion, and the vast majority consume it responsibly. Some New Zealanders have legal access to medicinal cannabis products. But while cannabis metabolites can linger in the body for weeks after consumption, any impairment lasts just a few hours.

The intention of the Bill is to make driving safer and to deter or remove impaired drivers from our roads. The challenge is to accurately deter and detect impaired drivers while not erroneously capturing non-impaired drivers.

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Why this is a “pretty good” approach

Cannabis will be treated consistently with alcohol. The oral swabs, Field Sobriety Test and evidential blood test will all to be calibrated to an equivalent level of impairment as the legal alcohol limit (50ng/ml). Drivers won’t fail if they are less impaired from weed than they would be at the legal drink-driving limit.

Oral swabs will be used, not urine tests which can pick up long-ago use with no impact on impairment. Oral swabs typically test positive for 4-12 hours after last use, but again the actual devices used will be calibrated to be equivalent to the alcohol limit, so probably 2-4 hours after use.

You will also need to fail two of them. This seems to be a recognition of the inaccuracy of oral swabs. And then it’s an infringement notice (ie a fine and demerit points), not a criminal record. This is consistent with alcohol.

If the driver opts, after failing the oral swabs they may take a Field Sobriety Test (FST: touch the nose, balance on one leg, count to 30, etc).

While this is still the most accurate predictor of actual impairment (and whatever the cause), here in NZ we have no dash cams or body cams so it’s just the opinion of the officer whether a driver failed (and we all know how unbiased our police are right?). Recognising this, the FST will not be evidential, it can’t be used in court and must be backed up with a blood test.

The evidential blood test will be calibrated to an equivalent level of impairment as the alcohol level of 50mg/ml.

All good stuff! Well, not quite all.

Some areas for improvement

The Field Sobriety Test is down to officer’s opinion – they may fail people they don’t like. We need body cams or dash cams for independent review.

There are valid concerns about the reliability, intrusiveness, accuracy, and scope of oral swabs. And oral swabs that are calibrated to the legal alcohol limit may not actually exist yet. They’re also a bit gross and well, germy.

The evidential blood test level is not in the Bill – but it should be. Research suggests a level of 7-10ng THC/ml of blood is equivalent. The US state of Colorado uses 6ng/ml. Setting the level too low could result in the unjust prosecution of non-impaired drivers.

Failing the blood test will result in a criminal record, whereas accepting the oral swab result means just a ticket and demerit points. It doesn’t seem right to have a much worse penalty from selecting one testing method or the other.

Giving police powers to stop and search the bodily fluids of people going about their business is a breach of the Bill of Rights and natural justice. It needs strong justification.

The law should allow for patients who are using medicinal cannabis legally and under the direction of their physician or other medical professional. Such advice is likely to include “do not drive for X hours”. We strongly support making this explicitly permitted in the law, not just a defence available to patients after they are prosecuted.

Overall, while the Bill can and should be improved, it’s pretty good and could be a heck of a lot worse. You can have your say here, and add your voice to supporting a sensible approach to cannabis.

Chris Fowlie is the president of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws NZ Inc; developer of the CHOISE model for cannabis social equity; CEO of Zeacann Limited, a cannabis science company; co-founder of the New Zealand Medical Cannabis Council; co-founder of The Hempstore Aotearoa; resident expert for Marijuana Media on 95bFM; cannabis blogger for The Daily Blog, and court-recognised independent expert witness for cannabis. The opinions expressed here are his own.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Driving while stoned must be made compulsory. If you’re pulled over and you’re not stoned you can have a choice. Either get stoned with the cop or walk.
    I’ve had it with them sober drivers. If they’re not driving up my arse they’re cutting me off or hurtle past me in the opposite direction with less than 2 meters between us in a zombie-like state of blank eyed staring. You ever talked to a sober driver!? They’re like ” Yeah-nah mate. Never saw ya. It’ll buff out, no worries. Get over it. Fuck off! “ Stoned drivers are like ” Aw fuck! Soooooooo sorry man. Let me buy you a ginger beer and an ice cream? Wha’s your name? Mines Bob.”
    The biggest single threat facing AO/NZ’ers is terminal sobriety. It must be stamped out. Tomorrow. Or later in the week.
    If you find yourself in a driving situation where you just feel overwhelmed by the traffic, the noise, the needless urgency of a whole fucking mess of people pointlessly rushing to urgently go nowhere in particular in a country 25 sq km larger than the UK but with only five million people living on it, it isn’t because you’re stoned, it’s because they’re not.

  2. Serious,car stoned not driving,real bus stop,stoned driving,see the cops looking now get them,and they will. So how us,tax the infringement,or arrest for the abuse.

  3. What a load of shite. If parliament really wanted to do something about the state of our roads they would quick smart reinvent the railways system. If parliament really wanted to do something about the state of our health they would simply legalise cannabis and kick start a hemp economy. If parliament really wanted to do something other than promote their own interests they would all be required to take a humanity test before entering the debating chamber and have their PFOA levels checked.
    Ignoring the voices of the reasoned and reasonable we ran roughshod over Chloe and Shane and others to achieve our aim of total dominance over the state.

  4. For me gluten and dairy creates real problems in my brain.

    These problems last for up to 2 months if I have been on these foods a little more than just an infrequent nibble. Even just 1 slice of bread every day for 1 week will leave me mentally fucked for 2 months as I wait for my gut to heal. Caffeine say 1 cup a day for a week also has a pronounced long lasting effect, up to 10 days usually.

    Just 2 beers over 3 hours once a month will impair me for up to 48 hours later, and creates much more impairment than regular light medical like cannabis titration ever will.

    I get an instant headache if I use the rangehood over the stove due to the emf’s very close to my head. Same as with CFL light bulbs and low ceilings.

    And because no doctor is allowed to support my environmental toxicity realities, I get labelled with mental illness as well as having a drug problem.

    What a fucking crock of shit.

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