The Victorian government will introduce amendments to the state’s drug-driving laws this week to enable researchers to assess the impact of medicinal cannabis on motorists in an off-road trial.
The fact that amendments are required will further frustrate campaigners left disappointed in August when the then Dan Andrews-led Labor government announced plans for the trial, which will take 18 months to complete.
The timeframe means patients could have to wait until well into 2025 before any meaningful steps are taken to reform drug-driving laws.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has said the police should cease prosecutions while the trial is underway.
ALA criminal justice spokesperson Greg Barns said: “We are pleased to see progress on this issue in Victoria, but there is no need for a trial. This will just delay making a change to these outdated and unfair laws that severely penalise medicinal cannabis patients.
“Cases are coming before the courts every week where people are losing their licence and their livelihood because they are taking prescribed medicinal cannabis and driving,” he added. “The prosecution of these drivers, if there is no evidence [of impairment], should be stopped while this trial is underway.
“People lose their licence, and sometimes their job, not because of impaired driving, but because of flawed laws. Current drug-driving laws were developed before cannabis became a legally recognised prescribed medication and the law needs to change to stay relevant.”
When the trial was announced, Legalise Cannabis Victoria MP David Ettershank told Cannabiz: “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?”
However, roads and road safety minister Melissa Horne said the new laws would clear the path to an enhanced understanding of how medicinal cannabis affects driving and help guide future reform.
The trial will also include the development of a Medicinal Cannabis Clinical Decision Support Tool for prescribing practitioners.