As the Australian state of Victoria prepares for a trial to assess the impact medical cannabis has on driving ability, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) says related prosecutions should be put on pause.
In most Australian states, it is illegal to for a person to drive a motor vehicle with any amount of the intoxicating cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system – including THC from legally prescribed medicinal cannabis. As THC may be detected long after consumption and its effects have worn off, this means patients often need to make a difficult choice between driving and taking their medication.
But (slow) change may be afoot in the state of Victoria. Early this year, then-Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews flagged his government was preparing to tackle the issue. Then in August, the Victorian Government announced a closed track circuit trial to commence next year. While a positive step, some see it as just kicking the can down the road given the amount of research on medical cannabis and driving that has already occurred – some of that in Australia.
The ALA has weighed in on the situation, stating that during this trial, police should not prosecute people who drive after taking prescribed cannabis if there is no evidence their driving is impaired.
“Drivers who take opioids or other prescription medication do not find themselves in court or risk losing their license, and neither should drivers who have taken a prescribed and legal dose of cannabis,” said criminal justice spokesperson for the Alliance, Greg Barns SC.
Mr. Barns says while the ALA is pleased to see progress in Victoria, a trial isn’t needed.
“This will just delay making a change to these outdated and unfair laws that severely penalise medicinal cannabis patients,” he stated.
The ALA notes current drug driving laws were established before medicinal cannabis was legalised and the law needs to change to keep up with the times.
The Australian state that has kept up with the times is Tasmania. Driving with any detectable amount of THC is an offence in Tasmania – unless the product was obtained and administered in accordance with the Poisons Act 1971, and the person is capable of effectively controlling a vehicle.