Police are warning people about smoking at Mardigrass. Photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP
Police are warning people about smoking at Mardigrass. Photo: Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP Glen Stubbe

Police warn users - leaf it alone at Mardigrass

POLICE will be conducting a high-visibility operation in and around the Nimbin township during the Mardi Grass Festival this weekend but it’s not just pot smokers at risk of being busted.

While Mardi Grass Cannabis Reform Rally organisers are encouraging the use of ‘straight’ designated drivers to avoid roadside drug detection, Lismore solicitor Steve Bolt said it was possible for passive cannabis smokers to fail tests which he believes are ‘ineffective’, ‘unfair’ and unrelated to driver impairment.

Positive tests can result in licence disqualification.

Mr Bolt said he was aware of drivers testing positive for passive smoking.

“In the absence of details from Police regarding testing levels, we have to assume it is possible to test positive for passive smoking.

“However, there is a defence. Police need a counterpoint (to prove the defendant believed they had not consumed cannabis),” he said.

Police confirmed additional officers from Traffic and Highway Patrol Command will also be deployed in the area over the weekend, to target speeding, drink-and-drug-driving and other dangerous driver behaviour.

NSW Police stated the aim of this weekend’s police operation is to maintain a safe environment for the public, by targeting illegal drug activity and anti-social behaviour.

Police are expecting large crowds to converge on the small village over the weekend, given numbers in previous years.

“Police will be targeting illegal drug use and supply, underage drinking, alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour,” Chief Inspector McKenna said.

However Mr Bolt and MardiGrass organisers are concerned about the weekend’s impact on the Lismore Local Court.

In 2014, Police caught 86 people driving under the influence of drugs in Nimbin during the festival, where police ran a number of concurrent operations.

However, since then, roadside drug testing units have rolled out across highway patrol vehicles and testing has has trebled, leaving Lismore Court inundated with up to 70 drug driving cases a day.

Mr Bolt is concerned the Mardi Grass-related drug detection spike may put an addition bulge in the pipeline of an already compromised court.

“The police do have some capacity to stagger the cases but we may see a bulge. The court will have difficulty dealing with that,” he said.

Mr Bolt will be speaking on a panel at Mardi Grass regarding legal matters including a defence now commonly known as the ‘12-hour rule’.

The NSW Government Centre for Road Safety website states that the saliva test would typically detect THC for ‘up to 12 hours after use’.

In February a drug driving case at Lismore Local Court opened a floodgate line of defence for cannabis users after 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.

Only last week Police prosecution made the decision not to appeal the Carrall case leaving the ‘reasonable belief’ defence standing.

However, Mr Bolt cautioned that cannabis could be detected up to three days and although that defence was available it ‘does not not mean that everybody gets off’.

MardiGrass organiser Michael Balderstone said he was advising MardiGrass smokers to use a designated driver, catch a bus, or hitch hike while brandishing cut-out a marijuana leaf. Yes, that’s right.

“We’re telling drivers to pick up hitch hikers holding big cut-out marijuana leaves,” he said.

Police would not say where they would be setting up roadside operations but in previous years roadside operations were set up at Goolmangar village on Nimbin Road as well as Kyogle Road.

Insepctor McKenna warned, “Illicit drugs can have life-threatening effects, especially when they are combined with alcohol.

“It is a common misconception amongst those international tourists that it is legal to take illicit drugs in the Nimbin area.

“We want to inform those tourists that it is not only illegal to possess or take illicit drugs; but those caught face serious consequences,” he said.

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