A WORCESTER solicitor has hit out at the lack of clarity over sentencing 'drug drivers' following a change in the law.

Gary Harper, a solicitor from city-based Hamer Childs, said more work needs to be done to clarify how to sentence drug drivers who are finding themselves before the court in increasing numbers.

He believes the absence of such guidelines means magistrates are being forced to rely on 'guesswork' when passing sentence.

The law in relation to drug driving has been in force since March 2, 2015.

It is now an offence to drive with any of 17 controlled drugs above a specified level in your blood.

This includes illegal and medical drugs. The limits set for each drug is different and for illegal drugs the limits set are extremely low but have been set at a level to rule out any accidental exposure (i.e from passive smoking).

But Mr Harper has warned that despite the change now being over a year old, magistrates have still not yet been provided with any sentencing guidelines and are either making do as best they can or using the drink driving guidelines as a reference to assist them.

He said: "The problem with this is that drink driving and drug driving are very different offences.

"With drink driving, there is a clear link between the amount of alcohol a person drinks and their level of impairment when driving.

"No such proven link exists in relation to drug driving and impairment, other than at the point of the specified legal limits.

"Over the above specified legal limits, you are in the realm of guesswork.

"With drug driving, the degree of impairment will depend on the type of drug taken, the dosage, how long the drug has been in the body for and whether it has been taken along with other drugs or alcohol.

"For example, with cannabis (which is in very common use) it may well be that a cannabis user who has smoked a cannabis joint up to 24 hours before being stopped driving by the police would be over or very close to the legal limit of 2ug.

"It is generally thought that cannabis can stay in the system for up to 14 to 30 days after use.

"On a practical level, the new law means that it will be no defence for someone to drive with drugs in their system on the basis that they 'felt okay to drive'.

Once convicted of drug-driving, the knock-on consequences can be quite severe as the offence carries a maximum prison sentence of six months and a minimum disqualification from driving of 12 months.

Mr Harper added: "Unlike with drink driving offences, a person convicted of drug driving will not have the opportunity to reduce the level of any disqualification by attending a driver rehabilitation course.

"Further consequences include damage to reputation by having a criminal record which in itself could be a threat to a person’s employment, increases in insurance premiums and possible restriction on foreign travel.

"The takeaway message is simple: If you have used drugs in the recent past do not be tempted to drive as you risk possible imprisonment and a lengthy disqualification from driving."

A spokesman for the Sentencing Council, which promotes greater consistency in sentencing, said: "Sentencing guidelines are not routinely introduced immediately after new offences come into force.

"They are developed using sentencing data from the courts which give a picture of the nature of offending.

"The Sentencing Council has, however, been liaising with the Department for Transport over this issue."