A recently released parliamentary brief provides a better understanding of the issues surrounding medical cannabis use and driving in Victoria.
In Victoria, a Bill to introduce a number of amendments to the state’s transport framework is in the pipeline. One of those amendments involves the thorny issue of medicinal cannabis.
As in most Australian states, it is illegal in Victoria for a driver to have any detectable level of the intoxicating cannabinoid THC in their system when operating a vehicle; even if the cannabis consumed has been legally prescribed and there is no driving impairment involved.
THC can be detected long after its effects have subsided – for days, and in some cases, weeks. This puts patients using legally prescribed cannabis medicines containing even traces of THC into a difficult position; preventing them from driving if they wish to avoid potential prosecution.
Victoria’s Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 seeks to amend nine Acts, including the Road Safety Act 1986. The related amendment would allow a study of medicinal cannabis and road safety; and is sufficiently broad to enable the State Government to conduct similar studies in relation to other drugs.
The issue is becoming a more pressing one as applications for the prescription of medicinal cannabis in Victoria under the SAS-B pathway have grown rapidly in recent years; including medicines containing THC. These are classified as Schedule 8 medicines and tightly controlled. Just 373 SAS-B Schedule 8 cannabis prescription applications occurred across 2016-18. This year, there have been more than 35,000 – but one patient can be associated with repeat applications.
The driving issue is one that may seem pretty straightforward to address. A recently launched Parliamentary petition sums up what needs to happen:
“.. make it no longer an offence for a driver who is unimpaired to have detectable THC in their blood or oral fluid, provided they have taken their medication as prescribed.”
But nothing in life, and particularly in politics/law, is straightforward. A brief released last week by the Parliament of Victoria outlines some of the history, related stakeholder discussion and responses to the Bill. It also provides a summary of some of the key issues and a jurisdictional comparison; both locally and abroad.
While not intended as a complete guide and its target audience is lawmakers, the brief is a good starting point for anyone trying to get a better understanding of the lead-up to the Bill and what’s currently happening.