New driving laws introduced in South Australia last week have heightened legal risks for SA patients using cannabis medicines containing THC.
As of last Monday, South Australia Police (SAPOL) officers can issue an Immediate Loss of Licence notice to drivers testing positive for prescribed drugs. Previously, offending drivers were issued with an expiation notice or summons to attend court. While both may result in a loss of licence, the situation allowed these drivers to continue driving in the meantime.
This was obviously problematic, particularly when the individual is at high risk of offending again; continuing to put themselves and other road users at risk. But what the new laws don’t take into account are the state’s medical cannabis patients who have legally sourced medicines, and whose driving may not be impaired.
In an effort to address this oversight, Sarah Game MLC is introducing the Statutes Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis Defence) Bill 2023 to the Legislative Council this week. This Bill seeks to allow for defence for medicinal cannabis users in a situation the person has a valid doctor’s prescription for a medicine containing THC, is not engaged in dangerous or reckless driving and a police officer cannot establish the person’s driving has been impaired.
“My Bill is based on existing rules in Tasmania, which allow for the detection of THC at the roadside for medicinal cannabis patients so long as the motorist is not impaired while driving,” said Ms. Game. “The government needs to support my common-sense Bill to ensure patients are not stripped of their licence through no wrongdoing of their own.”
The situation with medical cannabis and driving in Australia is a complex one, but something that certainly needs addressing sooner rather than later as more patients start using legally source medicines containing THC. Across the border in Victoria, the state government there released a report back in 2021 considering how a medicinal cannabis patient’s fitness to drive can be assessed – but there have been no changes to Victoria’s driving laws since.
Note: While an Australian study found consumption of cannabidiol (CBD) doesn’t impair driving ability, the intoxicating cannabinoid tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) certainly can. Regardless of any legal implications, patients need to be aware of this as a matter of road safety.