On the 11th of June 2021, the Drive Change Team responded to the National Transport Commission’s Assessment of Fitness To Drive Interim Report public consultation.
We were lucky to have a majority of our Ambassadors, Supporters and Friends sign on to the submission, which we believe shows great support for ending discrimination toward medicinal cannabis patients. Here are the organisations and individuals who supported our submission:
The proposed recommendations state that healthcare practitioners are to determine a medicinal cannabis patient’s ‘fitness to drive’. This recommendation aligns with the current guidelines for all other prescribed potentially impairing medications such as opioid analgesics and benzodiazepines.
It does not change the liability of the healthcare professional from the current state.
And, like all other medications, the doctor makes the initial assessment, but it is the patient’s responsibility not to drive whilst impaired.
The Drive Change Team, and all parties involved in the submission, agreed with the proposed recommendations. Passing these guidelines and amendments would be seen as a federal recommendation to create equal rights for medical cannabis patients.
This is the story of Deborah. Deborah is a mum and an active, productive member of society. She has been suffering from chronic pain for four years. Chronic pain changed her life:
Chronic Pain affected the way I exercise and socialise. But the health aspect it had the most significant impact on was my mental health.
For me, chronic pain occurs as a 24/7 headache. When it flares up, it sends pins and needles and numbness to other parts of my body. Headaches can range from mild to severe, non-stop. I have seen dozens of health practitioners in different medical specialities over the years. While some have helped me understand and manage the pain – I’d never found relief.
CBD + THC = Relief
At the start of 2020, I decided to see a doctor for medicinal cannabis treatment. I was approved and started with CBD isolate for two months. CBD isolate is a CBD only product – it doesn’t contain any other cannabinoids or chemicals from the plant. It did not have the desired effect.
My doctor suggested I try a product with a THC component. After a few weeks, I had pain relief for the first time. At the time, I was working from home due to COVID and wasn’t driving. So, there weren’t any issues with taking THC.
The impact of discriminatory laws
I could only use the THC for about two months as a trial and then had to stop as I needed to drive again. My daughter was on her final year of L plates, and I wanted (and needed) to drive with her.
My headaches came back, and my quality of life diminished again.
In early April 2020, my daughter received her license. I can once again get support from my family to drive me around when needed.
I’ve been able to start my cannabis prescription again, and within one week, I’m already feeling the amazing benefits.
When I’m feeling better, I can’t drive. When I’m feeling unwell, I can. Because I need this medication, I cannot legally drive. The challenge is that I MUST drive. Not driving has an enormous impact on my work life, my hobbies, and my social life. I have no interest in driving impaired, just healthy.
I’m looking forward to seeing the rules change to allow all medicinal cannabis patients to drive when unimpaired. We need a defence for presence so that patients can drive without being fearful of testing positive for THC.
As someone working in the cannabis space, I constantly see people asking questions about their prescription cannabis and driving or raising their concerns about what could happen to them or how cannabis has changed their lives. Here are two quotes that I think sum up both the benefits of cannabis (for some) and the stupidity of our current laws regarding medicinal cannabis and driving.
I’m a legal patient, and I’m too anxious to drive. Even if it’s been a couple of days or longer, I’m still worried that because of my medical cannabis use, I could lose my license or, worse – go to prison for using a medicine that means I’m not bedridden and actually have the choice to go somewhere.
But, because of the law, I can’t drive…it’s the worst catch 22 ever. I’m finally able to go somewhere and do things, but I can’t.
I’m currently unemployed and can’t get employment if I can’t drive.
It’s horrible… if I go back to pharmaceuticals (Oxycontin, Lyrica, Valium or even Subutex), I would be allowed to drive – but I’d go back to being incapacitated and suicidal.
Anonymous Medicinal Cannabis Patient
Lyrica is one of the worst drugs I’ve ever taken. I just wanted to kill myself the whole time. Now I’m taking medical cannabis, and my life has changed for the better. The fact they test for presence and not for impairment shows how unjust the law is.
These prescription drugs that make people suicidal are the medications that our doctors are so comfortable prescribing and often preferable to (over cannabis).
It’s not all black and white
Unfortunately, our current laws are pretty black and white.
if you have cannabis in your system – defined as THC present in your mouth – you cannot legally drive
Fun fact: Tassie is the only location in Australia with a medical defence (but it’s unclear whether you needed to get it prescribed via the tassie system – which is currently almost impossible – to change on July 1 when all GPs in Tassie will be able to prescribe).
What’s not black and white is how long cannabis stays in your system, particularly in your saliva. It’s also unclear why the government continues to test for presence when patients can beat the system if they really want to and when the tests we use are incredibly inaccurate.
THC only gets into saliva in the first place due to contamination of the oral cavity when you consume cannabis. So, it’s only when you use cannabis by smoking, vaporisation, eating or via any other way that it comes into direct contact with your mouth that you’ll actually end up with THC in your saliva.
Tom Arkell, The Lambert Initiative For Cannabinoid Therapeutics
Why the system is just wrong
There are several problems with this current system. Here are eight undeniable reasons that the system is wrong, broken and discriminatory:
Presence doesn’t mean impairment.
The time THC can stay in your system is different for each person.
No matter what anyone tells you about how long to wait – they aren’t 100% correct (refer to point 2).
THC can be present in your mouth via transfers (being around someone who is smoking/vaping and theoretically even kissing someone after they’ve consumed cannabis.
No one knows how much THC in any one medication will show up on a roadside swab. For example, the over the counter CBD is allowed to have up to 1% – that may actually show up on a saliva test.
The tests can be beaten if you put an oil or activated flower in a capsule (unless you burp it up in which case it might be in your mouth).
The roadside swabs regularly give false positives and false negatives.
Legally prescribed medical cannabis is the only prescription medication without a legal defence for presence (when not impaired). Discrimination.
So, if you take a medication with any THC, then it’s really up to you to decide whether or not you ‘risk’ it. If you do get caught, you can lose your license. However, if you get caught and are not impaired, make sure you stay calm and ask the officer (at a strategic time) if they think you’re impaired and ask for an impairment test.
And, then, as long as you’re not impaired, please reach out to the Drive Change team and tell us your story – someone may be able to help you out.
For more info about the details around cannabis and driving you visit honahlee’s cannabis and driving article.
Here’s an image that gives people a quick overview of the cannabis in their system research:
IMPORTANT: Please also note nothing above is legal advice – the author Thomas Brown – is not a lawyer.
A big win for medicinal cannabis patients in SA and the Drive Change campaign! The current drug driving laws are discriminatory toward medical cannabis patients. The Drive Change campaign was started to help create driving law reform that’s fair, equal, and improves public health. We’re honoured to have SA Greens MLC Tammy Franks as a supporter and ambassador for Drive Change.
About SA Greens MLC Tammy Franks
Tammy Franks was elected in 2010. ‘Driven’ for more than a decade, Tammy has taken-on countless issues and continues to advocate tirelessly for people and the planet.
Tammy’s determined work enabled the passage of the SA Industrial Hemp Act 2017 in 2017, and in parallel, her compassionate advocacy for better and more affordable access to medicinal cannabis for patients continues.
Recognising that whilst legal to be prescribed Medicinal Cannabis, the State’s drug driving laws are discriminatory.
“Patients should not have to choose between medicine or mobility.” Tammy is honoured to be associated The Cannabis Law Reform Alliance to #DriveChange
The Road Traffic (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill 2021
In February 2021, Ms Franks introduced The Road Traffic (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill 2021 in South Australia. The goal of the Bill:
To create drug driving law reform that’s fair, equal, and improves public health.
As quoted from Ms Franks website:
“The Bill provides for a complete defence against the charge of driving with the detectable presence of THC in oral fluid or blood where a person has a valid doctor’s prescription for a medicinal cannabis product containing THC and that product has been administered as directed. The Bill also makes the defence available for persons participating in medicinal cannabis clinical trials, removing a major hurdle for the advancement of cannabinoid science. The defence is not available in any circumstances involving dangerous or reckless driving or in any matter where the police can establish driver impairment.”