New drug-driving rules come into force in South Australia today which could see medicinal cannabis patients lose their licence on the spot.

Under new police powers, drivers who test positive for some prescribed drugs – including THC – along with illicit substances such as methylamphetamine and MDMA, will face an immediate loss of licence.

Previously, they would be issued with an expiation notice or court summons which could lead to a driving ban, but they would be allowed to drive in the meantime.

Police minister Joe Szakacs said the new laws were a “wake-up call” for “selfish motorists”.

However, dean of law at Southern Cross University and Drive Change campaigner David Heilpern called on the minister to allow an exemption for motorists who test positive for THC if they have a medicinal cannabis prescription.

“The forgotten people in these laws are the tens of thousands of South Australians who are taking prescriptions with very small quantities of THC in their system,” he said.

“For those South Australians who are relying on THC to assist them with a whole range of medical conditions, they’ll be left with immediate suspension of their licence before they have a chance to go to court.”

David Heilpern
Drive Change campaigner David Heilpern

Tasmania offers an exemption for medicinal cannabis patients, and the SA Greens have joined calls for the law to be reviewed, but Szackas is currently standing firm.

He said: “I don’t have an optimistic answer for those people who met with me or with advocates… the advice that I have received to date is such that we will be sticking with this model.”

When the new powers were first proposed in September 2021, Australian Lawyers Association spokesperson Greg Barns described them as “probably the worst we have seen in the road safety space anywhere in Australia in recent years”.

He added: “Drivers who take opioids or other prescription medication do not find themselves in court or risk losing their licence, and neither should drivers who have taken a prescribed and legal dose of cannabis.

“There is no scientific support for this proposed law change. Cannabis is a legally recognised prescribed medication and the law needs to acknowledge this to stay relevant.”

Last week, Legalise Cannabis Victoria introduced a bill to exempt medicinal cannabis users from the state’s drug-driving laws.

Prior to launching Cannabiz, Martin was co-founder and CEO of Asia-Pac’s leading B2B media and marketing information brand Mumbrella, overseeing its sale to Diversified Communications in 2017. A journalist...

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