UPDATE – new article via this link
So, the police are looking to introduce an oral swab that will detect cannabis/drug use in drivers and are hoping to put the legislation in place to make this law before the end of the year. This could have very serious consequences for all of us law abiding criminals who take cannabis in one form or another. I have to wonder if this could be the governments’ most effective counter to cannabis use in the UK to date. Following the farce of making cannabis a Class B drug, then Class C and then back to Class B again, we thought these monkeys were never going to get their act together and make an effective deterrent.. Well it looks like that’s all changing.
I suppose that cannabis users collectively now have to start looking at our little ménage a trois relationship we have with ourselves, our cannabis and our cars. We all know that we can’t currently be tested for cannabis use when we’re stopped at the roadside – we also know that a lot of smokers will smoke and drive because of this. I’ve known a lot of people who will smoke, what I consider to be quite heavily while they are driving but they still seem to be very safe drivers, not seeming different from drivers that don’t smoke.
However, my personal choice is that I don’t like driving while I’m stoned and I don’t like being stoned while I’m driving. Because of this I treat taking cannabis and driving in the same manner that I treat drinking and driving, I just don’t do it. Also, I’ve always had a fear in the back of my mind that if I was driving stoned and a kid ran out in front of me that, could my being stoned cause me to be that split second late on the brakes, the split second between that kids life and death. Well, that’s a choice each individual makes as to whether they smoke cannabis and drive, but it looks like we’ll have other considerations to take into account pretty soon before we carry on “building one for the road”.
The Police have suggested that the swab will detect any cannabis use for the previous seven days, this raises the obvious question of “If I have a spliff on a Friday night am I ok to drive the following Friday a week later?” We all, of course know that the answer is yes……unless it’s one of those obscenely huge spliffs we’ve all seen on Youtube at one time or another. Currently, as the law stands the Police have to show that the cannabis you have taken impairs your ability to drive to get a conviction. There was one very tragic case of a young girl being killed by a driver under the influence of cannabis but as the police only tested him nine hours after the incident they couldn’t prove that the cannabis had affected his driving and he was only charged for careless driving. So, to get round this the Police are looking at changing the law to be able to convict on a positive test regardless of when a person actually took the cannabis and whether or not it is still affecting them.
There is no need for this as I had a friend who was in the armed forces and had once been stationed in Holland. After their leave, they all had to have a mandatory drug test when returning to base. As they were being tested one of the guys said to the testers “What would happen if I’d been in an environment where cannabis was being smoked and I’d inhaled the smoke but not wilfully smoked a joint?” The tester replied that they could tell if the person they were testing had been in an environment where cannabis had been smoked but their test was sufficiently sensitive to differentiate between passive and shall we say, active cannabis smoking. This raises the question of whether the Police are trying to check if a persons’ driving is impaired or are they just looking for a positive result. The Police have said that they would only use the swab test if someone who appeared inebriated but had not tested positive for alcohol. They would then swab test them for drugs. But how long will it be before people are tested at the scene of an accident, no matter how minor? And after that, how long before the drink and drug tests come in pairs, never one without the other?
Some people have suggested that cannabis users as a body could look at trying to ‘price’ the police out of the new tests by refusing the roadside swab and insisting on a blood test instead. This would make the whole process very expensive for the police as I believe that a doctor will charge them £150 just for taking the blood, let alone the cost of the following test. However, the Police could just do as they do at the moment with drink drivers: a refusal to take the breathalyser test at the roadside automatically makes you guilty of drink-driving.
There are a lot of bonus factors for the Police in just going out to clock up the numbers with new drug testing powers. If you take into account the revenue generated from fines and the whole process people go through to get their license back following a driving ban, that’s a lot of money for the Government. There is also the issue of the police being able to add the details of approximately 4-6 million cannabis users in the UK to their array of Big Brother databases. A positive test will certainly give the Police the right to photograph you, fingerprint you, record your DNA and who knows maybe they’ll throw in a house search for good measure. Of course after this the insurance companies are going to be gleefully rubbing their hands together and if drink driving is anything to go by where they charge drivers in excess of £1000 on top of their premium for a drink driving conviction, cannabis users will probably get a similar treatment.
This paints a very dark picture for us car dependant stoners, even if we are just the weekend warrior type who enjoys a hit on Friday and Saturday nights because we get a lie in the morning after. More so if you’re the wake up and roll one to have before breakfast type – if you depend on that car then the Police will be out there waiting for us all with a view to lining their pockets from our misery. Honestly though, I have to ask myself if all of this wasn’t inevitable? I mean, we were never going to get away with it forever. I remember days where you could effectively smoke a bong in your car while you were doing seventy on the motor way. Whilst most of us would not condone that sort of behaviour we certainly don’t see why we should be arrested, dragged to court, given a driving ban and then financially raped by the insurance companies because we’d had a spliff a week earlier.
My personal opinion is that I would like to see something done about people driving inebriated by any drug – I think we all have a responsibility as individuals to be safe in what we do to ourselves and those around us. The loved ones of people killed by drivers under the influence of drugs pay a very high price for our desire to have the convenience of our car to use while we’re stoned. But, the government have turned it from this, to yet another state sponsored cash cow that has the state reaching further and further into our pockets and controlling our lives to a greater and greater degree. One thing we could hope for is that by the sheer number of people failing a swab test that the Police/Government have to look a reviewing their approach, or even give a greater push to the legalisation/decriminalisation of cannabis in the UK (unlikely I know, but I’m clutching at straws now).
I don’t know where this is going to end. but wouldn’t it just be simpler to legalise cannabis and bring in the tax revenue from it? It’s not like the country doesn’t need the money. Bring in a realistic form of testing for drug use in drivers and just be a bit 21st century about it all.. Whatever happened to a common sense approach to problems such as these? We get to smoke our spliff on a Saturday night, the government get to tax us for it and as long as I’m not having a spliff with my cornflakes on a Monday morning then surely I’m fit to drive to work to earn more money to pay more tax. It’s not rocket science is it?