A SECOND court had to be arranged in Wagga on Monday to cope with 80 people facing the charge of driving with an illicit drug in their blood.
The frightening extent of the city’s use of cannabis and the drug ice is being exposed by the police roadside mouth swabs that are snaring people from all walks of life.
Business owners, delivery drivers, painters, students, the unemployed, mechanics, carpenters and handy men – all with a desperate need for a driver’s licence to keep their job or get one – had cases mentioned on Monday.
Dressed in suits or T-shirts, thongs and shorts, they wore a common tag – drug users.
A registrar’s court dealt with simple adjournments, while the Local Court run by magistrate Erin Kennedy finalised 30 cases and adjourned a number of others that are going through the Magistrate Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) program.
MERIT is a six-week program that helps people overcome drug dependency.
Ms Kennedy convicted 26 people, 19 of whom were dealt with in their absence.
She fined them a total of $19,950 and disqualified them from driving from between three months and a year.
Four first-offenders were given a chance to keep their licences through good behaviour bonds.
Two people pleaded not guilty on the grounds of “honest and reasonable mistake”.
Solicitor Greg Reynolds told the court his client’s defence would include that he relied on police advice about how long he should not drive after he tested positive at a roadside stop.
The man was picked up and charged again some days later and is claiming he had not consumed any more drugs.
One man claimed he was not affected by the drugs when charged on one occasion, and was pulled over for testing three times in two weeks.
“I was not intoxicated,” he said.
“If you have it in your system, that is enough, that is the charge,” Ms Kennedy replied, later saying to the man: “It’s just the nature of the charge.”
Ms Kennedy asked a number of offenders what they were doing about their drug use.
“I haven’t touched it since I was caught,” was a common response.
One man was fined $2400 for four offences.
Many of those convicted said the driving disqualification penalty on top of a fine would cost them their job.
“How will you cope without a licence?” Ms Kennedy asked a handy man.
“Not very well,” he replied.
He said he had been tested six times since his August offence but had not used drugs since then.
Another said he been tested three times since his offence and had come up clean each time.