Last week, the Inquiry Into The issue Of Cannabis In Victoria report was released which, despite a last-minute intervention by government MPs watering down some recommendations, has suggested changes to the state’s drug-driving laws for medicinal cannabis patients. 

Currently, Tasmania is the only state that has a legislated defence protecting medicinal cannabis patients from drug-driving offences, with campaign groups lobbying to reform the law in other states.

The inquiry report recommends that the Victorian government explore ways to exempt medicinal cannabis patients from current driving laws and modify impairment-based drug-driving offences so they do not face prescribed criminal penalties.

It noted existing tests do not adequately measure impairment and that THC can be detected in a person’s system long after they are no longer affected by the drug.

The recommendation followed submissions from multiple stakeholders highlighting the unfairness of the current rules.

In its submission, Cann Group stated: “Medicinal cannabis products improve the quality of life of many Australians for various indications, yet it is a concern that patients in Victoria are unable to establish whether they can lawfully drive a vehicle which in effect offsets a portion of improved quality of life brought by the medication.”

Medicinal Cannabis Industry Australia (MCIA) said resolving the current issues around driving laws would reduce barriers to patient access to medicinal cannabis.

At a public hearing, Turning Point executive clinical director and Monash Addiction Research Centre director Professor Dan Lubman said other prescription medications such as opioids are treated differently from cannabis in relation to drug driving.

Turning Point executive clinical director and Monash Addiction Research Centre director Professor Dan Lubman

He added: “We know that acute opiate use impacts on driving, but there are many people in our community who are on long-term opioids for a whole range of medical conditions and who become tolerant of those effects and are able to successfully drive with those medications in their system. 

“So we need to be very careful around the difference between detecting a substance in our system and recognising the level of impairment.”

The inquiry report also cited research from Daniel Perkins et al. that found: “The crash risk for prescribed medicinal cannabis is substantially lower due to a range of factors, with this outcome supported by available international epidemiological data that suggests a null road safety impact in jurisdictions introducing ‘medical only’ access models.” 

The committee said the safety of the driver and other road users must be a key priority when deciding to allow exemptions to drug-driving laws, and that changes must balance road safety with medicinal cannabis patients’ need for mobility.