Lack of science raises questions for drug-driving sentencing

A MAGISTRATE has raised the difficulties in sentencing motorists caught driving under the influence of marijuana without significant research to show how the drug affects driving.

David Lloyd Gallagher appeared in Lismore Local Court on Tuesday before Magistrate David Heilpern charged with two counts of driving a vehicle with an illicit drug present in his blood.

The Green Pigeon resident was detected driving under the influence of marijuana by police twice in four months.

Gallagher was first detected on November 21, 2013, then again on March 22, when he was stopped by police on Dawson St, Lismore.

When police formed a suspicion Gallagher was driving under the influence of an illegal drug on March 22, the 23-year-old admitted to officers he had smoked marijuana two days before.

There is no evidence that having smoked cannabis either days or weeks prior, that your driving is adversely affected

- Magistrate David Heilpern

But Mr Heilpern questioned the effect smoking marijuana, cannabis two days prior to being pulled over, would have on Gallagher's driving.

"This offence creates some real difficulties in sentencing," he said.

Mr Heilpern said research he conducted on previous cases revealed police testing methods could identify marijuana cannabis in a person's system for up to two weeks after consumption.

"There is no evidence that having smoked (marijuana) either days or weeks prior, that your driving is adversely affected," he said.

"This is not to do with how this drug affects your driving; it is to do with an assessment that you have consumed this drug."

Gallagher's solicitor Tom Trembath tendered several a number of references on behalf of his client and entered guilty pleas to both charges on behalf of his client.

Mr Heilpern disqualified Gallagher from driving for a total of nine months on both charges and imposed fines totalling $900.


Judgment clouded: Effects vary from person to person

CANNABIS is a depressant drug which slows down messages travelling from a person's brain to their body.

The active chemical in cannabis is THC (delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) which is responsible for the "stoned effect" users report.

According to the Australian Drug Foundation, research has shown that after recent use of THC the risk of being killed in a fatal crash is similar to a driver with a blood alcohol reading of 0.15 (high range).

But as there is no safe level of cannabis use it is difficult to predict in what way, and for how long, cannabis will affect driving ability, the ADF says.

Factors including body size, weight, health and whether a person is a regular user determine the effect of smoking cannabis on an individual.

The effects can vary from person to person.

People who have consumed cannabis may think they can drive safely, however, the drug affects a user's judgment.

Even after consuming a small amount of cannabis the ADF recommends not to drive for at least five hours.



  • Reduced co-ordination
  • Slower reaction times
  • Slower information processing
  • Confusion
  • Changes in vision, hearing, and time and space perception

Topics:  court crime drugs editors picks marijuana

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