Police opposition has dented immediate hopes in Victoria that medicinal cannabis patients could soon be free from prosecution if they test positive to random roadside drug tests.
But despite the setback, campaigners remain confident that driving law reform will still get across the line in the next few months.
Hopes of reform soared last October after Reason Party MP Fiona Patten tabled a bill calling for legal medicinal cannabis to be treated as other prescription medications.
It led to Victoria’s Labor Government establishing a taskforce to explore the issue and pledging to work with Patten “while noting that road safety would form a key part of the discussion”.
Under current Australia-wide laws, drivers with any amount of THC in their system – however small – can be prosecuted even if there is no evidence to suggest driving is impaired.
Other prescription medicines, including opiates, are not subject to the same stringent rules, prompting accusations that regulations discriminate against medicinal cannabis users.
Any new legislation is expected to ensure that patients holding medicinal cannabis prescriptions will be free from arrest and prosecution if trace amounts of THC are detected – assuming they are not impaired.
But Cannabiz understands police representatives who contributed to the taskforce, including assistant commissioner for road policing command Libby Murphy, were dismissive of reform and reluctant to take on board differing views.
“Everyone on the taskforce was keen to find a way through, except the police. They wouldn’t have a bar of it,” one source familiar with the issue said. “There was certainly some argy-bargy.”
While the police do not shape state and federal laws – they apply the law as determined by politicians – such resistance is likely to delay any reform.
Road safety is an emotive topic with the public, and with the police entrenched in its conservative position, the political will to force through reform may wane.
Nevertheless, pro-reform lobbyists remain confident that while law enforcement objections are unhelpful, they will only delay implementation of regulatory changes, not derail them altogether.
It is understood Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is supportive of reform, with a paper jointly written by DHHS officials and a number of academics calling for a review of medicinal cannabis and driving.
Additionally, optimism remains in tact as premier Daniel Andrews has long positioned Victoria as a progressive state on issues relating to medicinal cannabis.
A report from the taskforce, which included “unique and varying expert perspectives” from government agencies, academia, experts in drug-driving toxicology, and the medical profession, is now being considered by government.
A government spokesperson said in a statement: “The Victorian Government established the Medicinal Cannabis and Safe Driving Working Group to consider options that balance the needs of drivers who have been prescribed medicinal cannabis with the requirement for safe driving.
“The working group heard from a range of experts, including forensic toxicologists from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, medical practitioners and road safety experts at Monash University, on the nuanced complexities of medicinal cannabis and its impacts on safe driving.
“The Victorian Government is currently considering the working group’s report.”
Police reluctance to embrace reform is unlikely to surprise cannabis advocates.
Shortly after tabling the Road Safety Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis) Bill, Patten said she anticipated a “rocky” road and expected pushback from law enforcement bodies.
“I have no doubt it’s going to be rocky. I’d love to be wrong, but I suspect it’s not going to be completely smooth,” she said.
Patten remained upbeat this week, telling Cannabiz: “I still have confidence we’re going to get there in the next couple of months.
“The taskforce was one part of the process and the Government is now exploring the issue [following the taskforce report] so it’s about keeping the pressure on.
“I believe it’s a matter of when and how it’s going to be done, not if.”
The setback to driving reform was the second blow to hit the Victorian industry this week. In a further frustrating development, Victoria’s health department reinstated a state-approval process for GPs and clinics to prescribe medicinal cannabis.