Medical cannabis and driving have always had a bit of contention in the Australian community and the rest of the world. It is an understandable contention as the prospect of medical cannabis has had some interesting health benefits to offer to patients. In 2007, the federal government put into the notion that drivers could be penalised for driving with any THC detected in their system. This is because THC found in medical cannabis is a psychoactive cannabinoid, which means the drug can cause issues to your cognitive and motor skills which are both important for driving safely.
Despite the legalisation of medical cannabis in 2016, this law still applies even today. The tiniest trace of THC could lead to a fine and suspension even though the driver is not impaired while operating the vehicle. CBD products, on the other hand, can be consumed before driving so long as the driver is not impaired while operating the vehicle.
In the following sections, we’re going to expand on the various viewpoints concerning medical cannabis consumption and driving.
Focus On Impairment Testing
Currently, there are now talks of changing the rules and regulations around driving post-consumption of medical cannabis. A green bill has even been proposed in the hopes to prevent unjust charges from occurring to these patients. Campaigns such as Drive Change are here to push forward leniency for medical cannabis patients who are required to drive. The government have even suggested different tests to determine the level of impairment for drivers who are detected with THC in their system.
THC can be detected in the saliva for up to 12 hours or 30 hours for consistent users. It can be found in urine for a range of 10 to 30 days or even more days.
According to Doctor Joel Wren, from the Society of Cannabis Clinicians, he believed the laws were outdated and discriminatory. He agrees that the driving laws concerning medical cannabis should follow the regulations of prescription drugs e.g. opioids, benzodiazepines, or valium.
Despite this, medical cannabis is still given no leniency when it comes to driving while on the medication. This is not considering the different metabolism rates and frequency of use for patients, both of which determine impairment.
How to measure impairment can be a fine line to cross. While there are a variety of field sobriety tests to help determine whether it is safe for the driver to operate the vehicle, they may not be the most reliable. The current proposed test is for the driver to stand on one leg with one eye closed. For certain drivers, this might not be recommended, especially for elderly drivers who in some cases, have poor balance issues.
Because there is no proper way to test for medical cannabis impairment, this has kept the Federal Government on the fence about whether to legalise patients driving on THC. This makes it difficult for drivers who require consistent usage of medical cannabis to help improve their health conditions.
Issue Of Crash Risks
Despite this, the NSW Government has made no plans to change the law. According to Peter Dunphy, NSW Head of Transport Safety, there were over 250 fatal crashes with drivers and passengers between 2016 to 2020 having traces of THC in their system. While in most of these cases it is from poor THC consumption, there is still evidence that indicates THC users can be impaired even after appropriate use.
The current laws aren’t working for medical cannabis patients who need to drive to do their everyday duties. Patients want to get on the road whether it is to go to work or pick up their kids from school, without the worry of being tested.
While there is more leniency skewed towards driving while on riskier drugs such as opioids and valium, we should be more considerate when it comes to medical cannabis use. Until there is proper testing for impairment, patients may have to tread water in the meantime.