Tuesday, June 20, 2006

No fines for motorists using ecstasy

The Advertiser

Australia - Motorists testing positive to ecstasy will escape penalty when the state's new drug-driving laws come into effect on July 1.

This is despite the fact equipment to be used by South Australian police can detect ecstasy and that Victorian police will begin random testing for the party drug on July 1.

Under the SA testing regime, drivers pulled over for a random test will have their saliva tested but will be charged only for driving under the influence of cannabis (THC) and methamphetamine.

This fact was detailed in a pamphlet circulated to more than 400,000 homes yesterday.

The Opposition yesterday warned the new laws were an incentive for drivers to use ecstasy rather than other illegal drugs.

The outcry comes after a national survey released today by insurance group AAMI found one in four men aged 25 years and under admitted to having driven while under the influence of recreational drugs, including ecstasy.

A recent report from the National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre shows ecstasy is killing more than one person every fortnight across Australia, with almost a third of the deaths caused by car crashes.

Opposition police spokesman Rob Lucas said ecstasy could be detected in the on-the-spot saliva tests with positive results being recorded by police but no penalties involved.

"What this bizarre policy means is that for those people who use illicit drugs there will be a clear incentive to use ecstasy rather than speed or marijuana," he said. Mr Lucas said it would be simple to change the laws to include ecstasy.

Legislation clarifying police powers to prevent drivers continuing to drive after testing positive should pass Parliament this week.

Road Safety Minister Carmel Zollo slammed the Opposition comments as irresponsible for "eagerly promoting the use of an illicit substance to avoid a law designed to save lives".

"Roadside testing will be carefully monitored over the initial 12-month trial period which targets the two most commonly used illegal drugs THC (found in cannabis) and methamphetamine," she said.

Ms Zollo said methamphetamine was a common ingredient in street-grade ecstasy and police said the detection of pure ecstasy was extremely rare.

A Government source said the aim of the new laws was to target the most common drugs found in the systems of drivers and eventually would be followed by other drugs.

The source said the most common drugs were cannabis and amphetamines and "we want to make sure we get it right with these two first and as technology advances others can be included".

Under the new laws, motorists would be hit with on-the-spot fines of $300 and the loss of three demerit points for a first offence. Refusal to take a drug test would result in a $700 penalty with the loss of three demerit points.

Mr Lucas accused Transport Minister Patrick Conlon of "another stuff-up" for not being aware of what drugs would be detected. He said Mr Conlon had been asked last week if ecstasy would be detected and the minister had answered he was not an expert on recreational drugs and police should be asked about the actual scientific basis of the tests.

Mr Lucas said Mr Conlon needed to explain urgently why drivers detected with ecstasy would not face the same penalties as those detected with marijuana and speed. A spokesman for Mr Conlon referred questions about the drug testing to Ms Zollo as she was responsible for the operation of the new laws.

By Greg Kelton


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