Medicinal cannabis patients in Victoria face a protracted wait before they can drive unimpaired without risk of arrest after the state government said an off-road trial will start next year and take 18 months to complete.

News of the trial was greeted with huge disappointment by Legalise Cannabis MPs Rachel Payne and David Ettershank who said similar experiments have already been conducted.

The timeframe means patients could have to wait until well into 2025 before any meaningful steps are taken to reform drug-driving laws.

David Ettershank

The Legalise Cannabis Party has requested a meeting with premier Dan Andrews to discuss the issues and express its dissatisfaction.

In a joint statement, Legalise Cannabis Victoria acknowledged that patients will be “bitterly disappointed at yet another delay in getting back to the normal life that medicinal cannabis should enable them to have”. 

Legalise Cannabis Victoria MP David Ettershank told Cannabiz: “For us, and more particularly for the tens of thousands of patients who are using medicinally prescribed cannabis, this is crushing.

“This has been on the table for discussion for more than five years and this study will do nothing other than replicate what has already been done in dozens of studies both here and overseas. What purpose could it possibly serve other than to kick the can down the road?

“The bottom line here is that we are not asking for anything radical, purely that medicinal cannabis is treated the same way as every other prescribed drug.

“It raises the question that the next time big pharma produces a new painkiller, are they going to go through five years of trials and debate?”

Ettershank said the timing of the trial is also unclear with the government indicating to the media it will take 18 months and begin next year. Yet in a meeting late on Friday, the roads minister is understood to have told the Legalise Cannabis Party that the trial would be completed by the end of 2024.

“The timing is ambiguous,” Ettershank said. “We have been told it will be wrapped up by the end of 2024 and that is consistent with what the premier has said publicly. We give him credit for that and our understanding is that the clock is already ticking. If that is not the case, that raises serious issues in our mind.”

He added that the government provided assurances that Legalise Cannabis Victoria will be involved in co-designing all elements of the trial.

“We want to ensure it is done in as timely a manner as possible with patients at the heart of it,” Ettershank said. “We have indicated how bitterly disappointed we are and that we intend not to sulk. We’ll be involved in the design process and no doubt will be involved in many negotiations with the government in the coming months.”

Rachel Payne

The trial will also include the development of a Medicinal Cannabis Clinical Decision Support Tool for prescribing practitioners. 

The commitment to developing the toolkit follows the 2021 Medicinal Cannabis and Safe Driving working group, which found a support tool at the point of prescription for medical practitioner and patient “offers an opportunity to assist medicinal cannabis patients to drive safely”. 

Payne said the toolkit “should be at the centre of this trial to support GPs and specialists providing clinical expertise and advice to their patients”.

“This invaluable support tool helps patients understand the safe consumption of their medication, a step which ensures the roads are safe in this instance,” she said.

Legalise Cannabis Victoria had called for a large-scale trial, and hopes were high after guarded support was given by Andrews.

The Labor Government had described the issue as a “priority for the government” and an “important subject matter”.

Steve has reported for a number of consumer and B2B titles over a journalism career spanning more than three decades. He is a regulator contributor to health journal, The Medical Republic, writing on...

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