A Wellington woman was acquitted of drugged-driving after a judge accepted the cannabis in her blood came from passive smoking at a party.
Aileen Rona Nadene Edmonds was pulled over by police in Victoria St in central Wellington on November 27 last year after an off-duty officer reported her car weaving across lanes on State Highway 2 and nearly hitting barriers.
She passed a roadside alcohol breath test but police said her speech was slurred, her eyes were glazed and she was sluggish.
She was taken to Wellington Central police station for a drug impairment test. A blood sample was taken and cannabis was detected.
Earlier that night she had drunk a couple of ready-mixed vodka drinks with friends in Naenae over several hours. Cannabis was being smoked in the same room.
Wellington District Court judge Chris Tuohy found the 40-year-old not guilty on Thursday, accepting her defence that she had passively inhaled cannabis smoked by other people in a room she was in.
The judge said she had to be actively using the drug – not just inhaling around it.
"I hadn't used cannabis," Edmonds said outside the court.
Judge Tuohy told the court that a new section of the Land Transport Act made it illegal to drive under the influence of a drug such as cannabis. But the drug has to be used, indicating the person had to take an active part in ingesting it.
The level of tetrahydrocannabinol in her system was 0.3 nanograms per millilitre of blood, which drug and alcohol research and expert witness Rachael Ford said would not have caused psycho-motor impairment.
Judge Tuohy said it was possible for the level in Edmonds' blood to be due to passive smoking. Police had to show that Edmonds had used the cannabis and they had not, he said.
He dismissed the charge. However, Edmonds was found guilty of dangerous driving and sentenced to 40 hours' community work. Judge Tuohy reduced the driving disqualification from the usual six months to three months due to the special circumstances of the case.
"You knew you were not operating at full capacity and should have stopped," he told Edmonds.
Edmonds takes the legally prescribed anti-depressant drug clonazepam for anxiety attacks, and the judge said it was clear that her impairment came from that. She was taking it according to her doctor's instructions.
Warnings on the drug did not include anything about driving, saying only that it could cause sleepiness and to limit alcohol intake.
Edmonds said she had been taking the drug for more than a year and had not been told anything about driving.
Judge Tuohy said even if the clonazepam did impair her driving, Edmonds would not have been found guilty because she was taking it legally.
Head of Wellington prosecutions Senior Sergeant Colin McGillivray said the blood test showed the presence of both a legal and illegal drug.
He said the law did not specify illegal drug levels and it was up to expert witnesses and the judge to make that determination, especially when there was also evidence of bad driving.
Transport Minister Steven Joyce said it would become clear as time passed whether the drugged-driving law needed to be modified.
Edmonds said, "The judge did a good job, my lawyer and supporters did a good job. It's much appreciated."
Aileen Edmonds' Night Out
Takes her anti-depression medication and goes to a friend's house in Naenae.
Drinks two vodka KGB drinks over several hours.
Inhales cannabis smoke while in the same room as drug users.
Leaves Lower Hutt at 8pm to drive to Wellington.
Her vehicle is seen weaving across lanes on State Highway 2 and she is followed by police.
When pulled over, she passes a roadside alcohol breath test but her speech is slurred, her eyes glazed and she is described as sluggish.
She is charged after a test detects cannabis in her system.