MEDIA RELEASE | For Immediate Release.
21 February 2023. [MELBOURNE, VIC]
Newly elected Legalise Cannabis Victoria Members of the Legislative Council, David Ettershank and Rachel Payne will tomorrow introduce a Bill to allow medicinal cannabis patients to drive with detectable levels of THC in their system, provided it is safe for them to do so.
The Road Safety Amendment (“Medicinal Cannabis”) Bill (2023) proposes a modest change to the Road Safety Act (1986) to no longer make it an offence for a driver who is unimpaired to have detectable THC in their blood or oral fluid provided they have a medical cannabis prescription and that they have taken their medication in accordance with that prescription.
The exemption does not apply to the driver of a motor vehicle who is impaired or incapable of having proper motor vehicle control, ensuring that these changes do not affect the safety of other road users. Under the proposed amendment, driving while impaired will remain an offence.
In 2016, Victoria became the first state to approve medicinal cannabis, but the Road Safety Act (1986) has not been updated to bring medicinal cannabis into line with other prescription medicines, that in some instances, may also impair driving if not taken in accordance with medical advice.
The amendment will be a huge relief for the thousands of Victorians who are currently taking medical cannabis as prescribed by their doctor but risk losing their license and being fined or detained for driving to their medical appointments. It will be a huge relief for thousands more who have been prescribed by their doctor but don’t take their medicine because they need to drive for employment, access and general quality of life.
In numerous studies, THC has been shown to stay in test subjects’ saliva for anywhere between a few hours and several days after use. Among frequent users, THC is also commonly found in blood and urine samples for weeks after the initial effects of THC have worn off.
The Victorian government has been considering this issue for a number of years now. In response to a similar Bill in 2019, the Government established the Medicinal Cannabis and Safe Driving Working Group and commissioned additional research offering many good reasons for the law to change
The National Transport Commission recently introduced extensive guidance for doctors on the issue and the International Council on Alcohol, Drugs & Traffic Safety (ICADT) has also provided extensive fact sheets for medical professionals, police and road safety policy-makers. Neither agency supports banning medicinal cannabis patients from driving.
The ICADT states “Medical cannabis consumers should not be subject to THC zero-tolerance laws that make it illegal to drive with any detectable level of THC, as is the case with some other types of impairing medications, but they should still be subject to impaired driving laws.”
Currently, Tasmania is the only state in Australia that provides a medical defence for driving with the presence of THC in bodily fluids, provided the medicinal cannabis is obtained and administered in accordance with state laws.
Legalise Cannabis Victoria MPs David Ettershank and Rachel Payne will be speaking to the media at Parliament House, tomorrow morning. They will be joined by medicinal cannabis doctor Dr. Karen Hitchcock, barrister Greg Barns SC and a number of medicinal cannabis patients affected by the current prohibitive driving laws.
Statements attributed to David Ettershank MP, Member for Western Metropolitan:
“People who have been prescribed a medicine and can drive safely should be allowed to drive – this is how we treat every single prescription medicine in Victoria, except medicinal cannabis, and its time for that to be corrected”.
“Testing for the sheer presence of THC rather than impairment is not right. This failure is based on stigma rather than evidence and the law for cannabis needs to be bought in line with all other prescription medicines
Statements attributed to Rachel Payne MP, Member for South-Eastern Metropolitan:
“The current restriction unfairly inhibits patients who need to drive for employment and so many others who have no choice but to drive. It’s time to stop interfering in people’s lives and to let them get on with their day while safely accessing the treatment that they need.”
“Driving laws should be focused on impairment, not presence. The research is done and advice for doctors and enforcement officers is available. We are calling for the government to work with us to update this outdated law.”
Statements attributed to Dr. Karen Hitchcock GP:
“I am referred patients with insomnia, often to assist them to withdraw from addictive drugs with overdose potential: benzodiazepines such as valium and temazepam, opiates, antipsychotics such as quetiapine, and hypnotics. A small dose of cannabis oil before bed (and a withdrawal regimen) is most often all that is required. By morning the effects of the cannabis have long abated. Unfortunately, by morning the patient may still have traces of THC in their saliva, and it may be detected in their blood for weeks. Many patients choose to stay on their more dangerous and more addictive medications because of the driving laws. Others take a risk, as the relief and increase in quality of life now that they are sleeping soundly are worth the risk of losing their license. Sleep deprivation, we know, grossly impairs driving ability. It is time the laws were changed to reflect the reality that cannabis is a medicine. It is time we stopped mistaking innocent citizens for criminals”.
From Greg Barns SC National Criminal Justice Spokesman for the Australian Lawyers Alliance:
“Cannabis is a legally recognised prescribed medication and the law needs to acknowledge this to ensure justice. The current laws in Victoria are not based on science but simply on prejudice and ignorance. They are also irrational. If you use Valium and drive you do not commit an offence!”
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Photo by Tony Lee