Campaign group Drive Change has petitioned state and federal governments calling for equal driving rights for legal medicinal cannabis patients.

There are currently more than 65,000 medicinal cannabis patients in Australia, a number expected to grow to 100,000 by 2022.

Of those, only Tasmanian patients are protected under state driving laws.

Former NSW magistrate and Drive Change campaign lead David Heilpern said: “One of the key reasons I left my job as a magistrate was because I could not stomach these unfair, discriminatory and counterproductive laws.

David Heilpern
Drive Change campaign lead David Heilpern

“People who are prescribed THC as a medicine should not be criminalised when they drive unless in some way they pose a danger to the community. This petition will show lawmakers it’s time for change.”

Drive Change estimates around one million people will try low-dose CBD oil once it becomes available over the counter as a Schedule 3 medicine. If it contains traces of THC, those who drive will be at risk of penalties on Australia’s roads.

The petition has already been signed by MPs including Reason Party leader Fiona Patten, Tammy Franks (SA Greens), Cate Faehrmann (NSW Greens) and Sophia Moermond (Legalise Cannabis WA).

It is also backed by the scientific community, with signatures from researchers in the field of cannabis and drug driving including Tom Arkell, Professor Iain McGregor, and Professor Michael White.

Former commissioner of the Australian Federal Police Mick Palmer AO said he hopes the campaign will show government and police it is time to revisit the current system.

He added: “Under Australia’s current roadside drug testing (RDT), impairment is not seen as a regulatory requirement and, as a consequence, RDT laws essentially reflect our prohibitionist approach to illicit drug use even where drugs are used for medicinal purposes.

“These laws discriminate against seriously ill medicinal cannabis patients and operate in almost direct conflict with government moves to recognise the value and benefit of medicinal cannabis and to widen prescriptive access.”

Former prescriber now patient Dr Teresa Towpik called the current laws a “major roadblock” for public health.

“These laws… operate in almost direct conflict with government moves to recognise the value and benefit of medicinal cannabis and to widen prescriptive access.”

MICK palmer ao

She added: “I’ve seen cannabis change my patients’ lives for the better. Unfortunately, many doctors are making medical decisions based on driving laws, not patient health.

“I’m a patient and cannabis is helping me, but the law makes me a criminal when I drive, even though I am not impaired. We need the support of patients [and] doctors to help create laws based on health and science.”

The current law gives no legal defence for medicinal cannabis patients in the event of a positive roadside test, while all other prescribed medicines have a defence for presence.

However, research by the Lambert Initiative released in December 2020 showed CBD is safe for driving while an April 2021 analysis by Lambert showed people consuming THC could be safe to drive within hours.

Swinburne University recently received a federal grant to fund further medicinal cannabis road safety research.