Cannabis advocate avoids drug-driving conviction
by Liana Turner
28th Jun 2019 2:00 PM | Updated: 4:28 PM
HEMP Party president Michael Balderstone has conceded he drove with a detectable quantity of cannabis in his system, but he’s been spared a criminal conviction.
His solicitor, Steve Bolt, hopes to debate a broader issue around drug-driving laws and testing in the future.
Mr Bolt told Ballina Local Court yesterday he’d been instructed to enter a plea of guilty, despite a hearing having been scheduled.
The court heard his client, also involved with the Nimbin Hemp Embassy and who had no criminal history and almost no traffic record, – the most recent being a minor speeding matter from 2002 – returned a positive cannabis result in a roadside drug test in Nimbin on July 20 last year.
In a letter to the court, Mr Balderstone apologised and said he’d pulled into a disability parking spot to take a call from his son. This was the only behaviour that brought him to the attention of police.
He questioned politicians’ claims the current laws were “all about safety”, citing the impact of legal, prescription drugs on driver ability.
Magistrate Karen Stafford recorded no conviction.
Mr Bolt told the court they intended to fight the charge based on “valid arguments about the way in which the laboratory applies the law”, which he said had “broad community interest or public interest”.
Outside court, he explained this case wasn’t the strongest in which to wage war on NSW’s current approach to drug-driving but said he hoped to push that argument in a future case.
“The law itself is very open-ended,” Mr Bolt said.
“Unlike the alcohol rules, there’s no levels prescribed in the legislation. We think the over-sensitivity of what is reported on is unfair and the law should be about testing reasonably for impairment. We’ve got to have sensible laws.”
Mr Bolt earlier this year represented a woman who was found not guilty by Lismore Magistrate David Heilpern for driving with an illicit drug present in her system.
In that case, Mr Heilpern found the prosecution had not proven beyond a reasonable doubt that her positive THC result had not been caused by spending time with a terminally ill neighbour who had a medicinal cannabis prescription.
Mr Balderstone said he was pleased to be spared a conviction but “disappointed” his case couldn’t ventilate his argument that a more just testing method would consider levels of impairment, regardless of medicinal or other use.
Original story: HEMP Party president Michael Balderstone has avoided a conviction over a drug-driving charge.
Mr Balderstone, also involved with the Nimbin Hemp Embassy, was due to face a hearing before Ballina Local Court on Friday.
But the matter was resolved quickly after his solicitor informed the court yesterday he would change his plea to guilty.
The court heard it was the manner in which Mr Balderstone had parked near a Nimbin road on July 20 last year which brought him to the attention of police.
He then returned a positive roadside drug test, and the court heard there was no concern raised in relation to the manner of his driving.
Solicitor Steve Bolt explained the belated guilty plea to the court.
“The original intention was to raise some, in our respectful submissions, very valid arguments about the way in which the laboratory applies the law,” Mr Bolt said.
He said, however, they found this was not the strongest case to place that argument, which he said had “broad community interest or public interest”, before the court.
The court heard Mr Balderstone had no criminal history and a very limited traffic history, most recently a speeding fine in 2002.
Magistrate Karen Stafford found the allegation proven but dismissed the matter under Section 10, recording no conviction.
More to come.