The latest news on drug testing in Australia
If you’ve read the news recently, you would be aware of the many possible changes to drug testing in Australia, especially for drivers. We round up the latest news on drug testing on drivers and the public in Australia.
Drivers will be tested for more types of drugs
New South Wales is the first Australian state to test drivers for cocaine use.
All Australian states already conduct random driver drug testing, but the existing saliva drug testing kits in all states test only for THC (Cannabis), methamphetamine (speed and ice) and MDMA (ecstasy). Cocaine, a drug widely associated with more affluent users, had not previously been tested.
Apart from testing for cocaine, the NSW Government also announced other measures in January 2018:
- Doubling the number of roadside drug tests from 100,000 a year to 200,000 a year by 2020.
- Increasing maximum penalties for drug drivers to two years imprisonment, fines of $5500 or licence disqualification for up to five years.
- Providing appropriate restrictions on people who drive after using other drugs, in consultation with health experts.
Other states have not yet followed suit – WA authorities will monitor the NSW move first, but say methamphetamine use is a far bigger danger on the State’s roads.
Victoria police, on the other hand, are less concerned with cocaine, saying it is “not a top priority”. Police Minister Lisa Neville said officers are still able to detect drivers affected by cocaine using a drug test, and then a blood test if there is still concern about the driver’s condition.
However, the Victoria police is considering funding more drug driving tests from the current 100,000 roadside drug tests per year to 400,000 after a legislative review.
Cocaine’s popularity is second only to marijuana in Australia, according to the latest National Drug Survey, with one in 40 people over the age of 14 admitting to using the drug.
Drug testing welfare recipients
The Australian government attempted to introduce a new law that would allow a trial to drug test welfare recipients.
Under the proposed laws, those caught using drugs would be offered treatment. Anyone who tested positive would be moved onto cashless welfare cards. Those who failed more than once will be referred to medical professionals for treatment. Jobseekers who refuse a drug test would have their payments cancelled and they would be barred from reapplying for four weeks.
However, in March 2018, the controversial move to drug test welfare recipients was removed from the bill after it became a crucial sticking point in negotiations.
The welfare reform bill passed the Senate with some amendments, bringing in tougher penalties for persistent and deliberate non-compliance of welfare obligations.
Under the changes as well, people will no longer be able to use drug and alcohol dependence as a reasonable excuse for not meeting obligations.
Victoria may consider decriminalising recreational cannabis
The Victorian government has been told to consider decriminalising recreational cannabis in a 640-page parliamentary report – The Inquiry into Drug Law Reform.
Its 50 recommendations included establishing a new advisory council to research options and advise the government on its next move.
The report noted cannabis was the most popular illicit drug, and that it was “one of the less harmful substances when compared to others such as alcohol or heroin”.
It also found drug use should be treated as a health issue, rather than a law enforcement issue.
Victoria Police already has the discretion to put those apprehended for possession through drug diversion programs, but the committee said this was accessed inconsistently.
The report also recommended reviewing the threshold amount for possession to ensure users aren’t convicted as traffickers.
Other than that, the report recommended re-assessing the state’s drug driving laws to measure impairment, not just the presence of drugs.
The state government has until later this year to consider the 50 recommendations.
Read more from The New Daily
Pill testing at music festivals
The same report mentioned above also recommended that pill testing be introduced at music festivals. The main objective is to help emergency workers treat patients suffering adverse reactions like overdoses.
The report proposed that authorities, not festival goers, have access to “backdoor” testing of substances. This is so that medical authorities can treat patients and issue alerts to the public to prevent other incidents.
According to the report, there was strong support for pill testing in the evidence given to the inquiry.
However, the report recommended against making drug checking available to the public. This was a safety measure due to concern that individuals may perceive substances that are tested as being safe to consume.
Another concern that was raised was that drug checking services might be misused by drug suppliers, who may use information provided by drug-checking services to promote ‘the safety’ of their product.
Victoria is home to festivals including Rainbow Serpent, Pitch Music & Arts and Babylon. In January earlier this year, nine people were hospitalised after overdosing at a dance party at Festival Hall.
The University of Canberra in the ACT has announced it would support a pill-testing trial to take place at the Groovin the Moo festival in April.
However, the Victorian Government has consistently rejected calls for pill testing, saying there was no safe level at which illicit substances can be taken.
The government will respond to the report in the coming months.
Read the full list of recommendations, which also includes potential reforms to roadside testing and how possession for personal use is treated, here.
Read more from ABC News
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