Prior to last night’s debate, Drive Change wrote to all Members of the Law and Justice Committee, highlighting that medicinal cannabis remains as the only prescribed medicine that does not have a legal defence for driving.
At the end of the vote, a snide comment was passed by one of the Members (the Hon. Mark Latham MLC) to “pass the bong,” with the Road Ministers laughing at this remark. This childish antic is one in a string of out-of-line
Such appalling behaviour should be called out. There have been over 250,000 approvals for medicinal cannabis in Australia, and this sort of language is disrespectful to the thousands of patients with lawful approvals. Australians who have been approved for medicinal cannabis, but particularly to patients who have had their license taken away, lost their job, their livelihood, and quality of life due to these drug driving laws.
Such language and remarks from Mark Latham highlights the stigma, discrimination and criminalisation around this medicine.
In order to change this, we need to remember to make sure Australians who are treated with medicinal cannabis are spoken of respectfully. There needs to be a shift in our perceptions, a change in how we speak, and most importantly, we need the laws to change. With the most recent Parliamentary defeat, the law remains discriminatory against these patients.
The goal of Drive Change is and always has been about advocating for new driving laws where medicinal cannabis patients and doctors get fairly treated. To achieve this goal, we’re doing all that we can to have the discriminatory drug driving laws changed to protect all those legally opting for medicinal cannabis. Without our ambassadors and donors, we wouldn’t be able to do this.
You can read more about the backwards science of the laws here.
We believe it’s important for our current and future ambassadors and donors to know how their money is put to work. Here is a round-up of everything Drive Change did to push for drug driving law reform in the past year:
We worked with doctors, scientists, and medicinal cannabis patients to gather the information we needed to present a petition asking the community to show their favour for drug driving law reform. The goal, this petition, is a vital tool in the fight.
The petition remains live with over 24,000 signatures. You can sign it now or share the link and help us reach 25,000 (and beyond).
Ask Me Anything
Hosted by industry experts, this event invited the public to virtually attend a panel where they could pose any question they had regarding drug driving laws and medicinal cannabis. We were honoured to have a panel of experts including Dr Teresa Towpik, Dr Thomas Arkell, former police chief Mick Palmer, and MP Fiona Patten.
Events like this are important to connecting patients and doctors in the community with leaders in the industry who can be teachers and advocates for the medicinal cannabis industry as a whole.
This closed-forum meeting welcomed government and industry leaders to discuss the current laws regarding science, industry, and overall health and safety of our roads and community members. In doing so, we are creating time and space for law reform to be a serious discussion amongst those who have the power to create the change.
Our network of supporters and ambassadors include several of these industry leaders and members of Parliament. If you are interested in joining them on our team of ambassadors, please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.
‘Letters to Local Members’ campaign
Drive Change believes that getting the voice of the community heard is integral to the process of drug driving law reform. That’s why we organised the ‘Letters to Local Members’ campaign.
Through this work, we made it easy for the community to send letters to their local members urging them to consider amending drug driving laws to protect medicinal cannabis patients.
It also served as a way for the community to urge their local representatives to join the Government Roundtable and become part of the discussion.
Getting in touch with your local representative is one of the best ways to fight for change. You can still write a letter sharing with them your own reason for wanting change. Find out how: Write a Letter to My Local Member
Submissions to Parliament
Shortly after writing letters to local members, Drive Change set up community members with the chance to lodge a submission in support of the NSW Road Transport Amendment Bill.
Introduced by Cate Faerhmann and up for debate this year, community support for this bill is integral to pushing for change. As with every other opportunity to see drug driving law reform, Drive Change worked diligently to make sure the community’s voice was heard in this matter and all others.
Nimbin/Mardi Grass Drug Driving Symposium
Rounding out all of our efforts this year, Drive Change leader and former Magistrate David Heilpern appeared at the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Symposium. He spoke about the discriminatory drug driving laws and how they are harming patients, public health, and economic growth.
Support from the industry and community is essential to the continuation of our work at Drive Change.
For industry leaders and product suppliers: Support patients and doctors who rely on you to access medicinal cannabis. Email us at email@example.com to find out how to become an ambassador.
For community members: every little bit from you helps us fight for fair and equal drug driving laws. We thank you for your support.
Lawyer Mat Henderson shares his reflections on possible ways around the drug driving law impasse and his experience defending a professional driver (and die-hard Storm fan) who was penalised for medicinal cannabis.
“It’s the attainment of justice and fairness that gives lawyers their buzz.”
So said The Hon Michael Kirby during one of the dozen visits to UTS Law School during the 00’s. The truth is, there is little to no buzz for a lawyer doing pro-bono work for medicinal cannabis cases. After five years of this sort of work, I can attest to that. What it really is is a grind of hearing heartbreaking patient stories and organising of doctors’ letters, which all feels more like shoveling sand against the tide than it does practicing law.
The lack of buzz stems from an inability to “change the law” in the time-honoured way by approaching courts, arguing the distinguishing facts of your case, setting a precedent, and changing the law (a gross over-simplification).
It doesn’t matter if “Granny Scroggins” is a cancer patient who last consumed her prescribed THC a month ago but then stopped being able to afford it. If it is detected in a roadside oral fluid drug test, she’s breaking the law. These laws seems to suggest that presence is presence and criminality is criminality. Even if you never thought of yourself as a criminal, as Granny Scroggins never did. If THC is detected in your system, you are.
Don’t even sit in the driver’s seat of stationary car if you had your THC-containing medicine today. It’s a zero tolerance approach to any presence of THC. This law persists, despite the increasing number of international jurisdictions which are adopting a per se approach, i.e picking a measurement of THC-in-blood and only making it a criminal offence to drive if that level is detected.
The basis of our road laws are inherently flawed
A zero tolerance approach focused on saliva testing is fraught with accuracy issues. The current police practices take your saliva sample and sends it off to a lab. There, it winds up in a whizz-bang machine that looks for evidence of THC in your fluid, regardless of how long ago it was consumed. THC consumed days or even months ago can show up through this method. Whether it reads a faint positive or false positive, the law doesn’t care. What this machine spits out is essentially the live or die results of your driving priveleges.
Australians also trust each other to be responsible when it comes to taking any prescribed impairing medicine (as directed) and to not operate cars, mix the medicine with booze or use heavy machinery if they feel impaired.
Common sense dictates that most folk apply the ‘next day rule’ to impairing drugs. This should also be a given when it comes to medicinal cannabis but law makers appear to be blocked by law enforcers. This is not how the separation of powers is meant to work.
How Parliament is Working to Change the Law
If you got this far, you may or may not know about the Parliamentary developments in Victoria and NSW.
For those who need to be caught up, the decision was: “More research required.”
Over the last ninety years, police have professed to be experts in determining whether or not a person is affected by cannabis/THC. Now we’re essentially told that such rudimentary policing skills are beyond them and that whiz-bang machines are more reliable.
Righto then. Below is my personal account of what will likely continue to happen whilst the research progresses.
Mat Henderson’s Tricky Tale of Defending a Medicinal Cannabis Patient
Two years ago, I took a call from a friend who works in the locally-licensed medicinal cannabis space.
A doctor had just called them about a patient on a 50:50 product who consumed 0.25 of a ml of oil (approx. 2.5mg CBD and THC) at 8am and then got pinged by a roadside drug test at 4pm. The patient is a professional driver with a bad spinal injury and felt no adverse impairment that day at any time during the day of offending.
More about Will later though. First Let me firstly give you a flavour of the factors you need to weigh up when working with a person about their history of prescribed THC, traffic history, and logistics around the day of offending.
Any reasonable person would be able to understand there was no impairment from medication on Will’s part. But that doesn’t matter; what matters is how the law is written.
The way the laws are currently written, unless you have a reasonable explanation for how the THC got into your saliva passively (and possibly without your knowledge), a court is in no position to do anything other than apply the law and mark your actions as criminal.
If you’re given a fine and purport to contest it on any grounds other than passive/unknowing ingestion of THC, you’ll find yourself in a legal cul-de-sac without a defence that a court is able to spend any time listening to. Best you don’t go speculating on how reasonable your reasonable explanation is without seeking formal legal advice. This blog post is not that.*
When I do offer legal counsel to clients, I commonly hear the same story:
“I am a lawful medicinal cannabis patient”
“I take my medicine lawfully.”
“I’m not some scallywag kid driving when stoned.”
Sadly, none of these remarks are a good defence as the law remains as it is. Having detectable levels of THC in your saliva is a punishable offense, and patients ought to think twice about blurting out this knowledge after returning a positive roadside THC test.
If you know how the THC got there (and it was from consumption of your prescribed medicine), please don’t expect the police to use that information to apply leniency and wave you on.
However, if you’ve thoroughly educated yourself on the futility of arguing a medicinal defence and understand that if you contest the fine, you’ll inevitably end up pleading guilty, then you may wish to seek leniency in sentencing. If so, keeping your story consistent in any dealings with the police and the courts is always wise.
Ask nicely and your doctor should write a supportive letter to the court outlining what conditions you’re diagnosed with, what medications you’re on and their brief opinion as to the efficacy of those medicines and any overall symptom relief and improvement in your quality of life.**
With such harsh and unjust laws, what could any leniency look like?
Well, perhaps you may not have conviction recorded or face an unsettlingly large fine.
Like I mentioned at the start, there’s no justice buzz for lawyers here. Not when every THC detection matter feels like nailing jelly to the ceiling, fighting a retreat with the British at Dunkirk or fighting against them at Ruapekapeka, massively outgunned but most certainly not out-witted. On most facts, a scrappy draw is the best result you can ask for.
The preservation of a future career working on the Canadian ski fields is a lifeline for some people. A criminal conviction in Australia tips poutine all over plans like that. However, if a person has to revert to previous medications like opioids and benzodiazepines which may well kill them in order to avoid offending in the future, then it’s hard to interpret that as anything other than a loss.
Losing all the time sucks.
Despite knowing this, I still wanted to speak to Will…
This was back during the first lockdowns of the pandemic and there was a strong public interest in ensuring food supply networks remained functional. Lawyers chasing the fairness buzz, like good reporters, are always looking for good facts. Surely such facts warranted a letter being sent to the prosecution to seek withdrawal of charges that Will was facing on public interest grounds.
Either way, after a long chat with Will, it was clear he had a unique factual matrix worth exploring and even if there was no joy to ultimately be had in court, there was the prospect that the case may have communal learnings for all in the drug law reform space.
Coincidentally, it was also around this time that Drive Change was founded, and David Heilpern was roped in to consult pro-bono. Greg Barns SC was instructed to appear and graciously agreed to do so pro-bono as well.
This is where things start getting lawyer-ly
Everything about Will’s circumstances warranted a request for some prosecutorial discretion. Through endless lockdowns, delays, illnesses, and adjournments, this approach was initially taken twice. First with the police prosecutors at the Magistrate’s Court. They stated the prosecution would proceed. Secondly with the top Victorian prosecutor at the Office of Public Prosecution where, in April of this year, they also stated that the prosecution would proceed.
Excerpts from those reps drafted by me and settled with David and Greg below.
On 11 August, Greg appeared for Will at Heidelberg Magistrate’s Court. In the absence of a defence as to how the THC got into his system, Will pleaded guilty.
In being deferential to the presiding judicial officer, we shan’t regurgitate their words verbatim, less to say that the court was moved by Will’s supporting letter from his doctor and his attempts to have a more functional life beyond opioids. There was no fine payable and no conviction recorded but the court was compelled by law to suspend Will from driving for 6 months. Will was given the lowest possible penalty just as Greg wrote submission that Will is “ultimately a victim of the Victorian legislature’s failure to keep abreast of the development of medicinal cannabis as a legitimate form of pain relief.”
Will has had some time to plan around the inevitability of a license suspension but still, it’s hard. He tells me a McDonald’s has opened in walking distance from his new place. He can bang out some hours there to keep some funds coming in.
He shouldn’t have to work at Maccas for 6 months because of being a lawful medicinal cannabis patient who drove whilst unimpaired. Yet with detectable levels of THC in his saliva, that’s what he’s faced with. All medicinal cannabis users ought to be afforded the right to drive provided they aren’t impaired by THC (to Maccas even).
The best approach to testing for THC
Due to the vagaries of THC and human metabolism, it’s not looking mega-likely that sampling your saliva or blood and reverse calculating the timeframe in which you *may have* last consumed THC is going to be possible anytime soon.
Suppositories? Forget about it. Even if there was a device on the market that purported to test for ingestion of cannabis via anal suppository, I imagine that both the police unions and civil libertarians would unite to oppose its use.
Basically it seems as if The Man is unwilling to budge on the issue of THC detection until such time as someone in a white coat provides them with the equivalent of “0.05 on the Willie Nelson Dial” (as they see it) and the means to conduct the test within in a roadside mouth-swab oriented environment.
The law, in my humble opinion, as it stands in this area, is an ass.
We have a set of laws on our statute books that unfairly target a growing swathe of the population with the unnecessary stain of criminality. This is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. Given the outcomes of the recent Parliamentary reviews referred to above, it is a status quo that will continue for however long it takes for the research to be done, then peer reviewed and published.
Q. How long will that take?
A. Probably five years and as Bowie sang in Five Years, my brain hurts a lot.
I wish this article contained a happier call-to-action beyond sit down, shut up and wait for the scientists to finish whatever it is they do behind their velvet curtain.
Where to from here?
When the callout comes for trial participants, best we spread the word far and wide. How about a temporary statutory defence (for THC detection) being afforded to participants registered in the studies recommended and supported by the Victorian parliamentary review and similar studies (seemingly) endorsed by the NSW review and soon to be debated on the floor of Parliament?
The more people who don’t have to put their regular lives on hold in order to wind back the mysteries and wonder of cannabinoid science, the faster the damn research is going to get done.
The biggest hidden hold up to the research is securing clinical trial participants for a THC and driving study. A study which would prevent them from driving whilst the research is being carried out. If parliamentarians allow absurdities like this to stand then our grandchildren are on track to living in an idiocracy where sugary electrolyte drinks are what plants crave.
Instead of being quiet and patiently waiting for Bunsen and Beaker to turn in their paper, we in NSW and Victoria can ensure our votes go to candidates with some chance of setting up a balance of power in upcoming state elections. The Queensland government are about to announce a parliamentary review into drug driving laws and medicinal cannabis. Maybe that review will involve some genuine consideration of the practicalities involved with implementing an interim regime based on best practices from Norway, New Zealand, Canada and Ireland. Perhaps the per se limit of 3ug/L THC in blood as is used in the Netherlands could be a good starting point. If you consumed THC within the last 15 hours, you’ll likely get pinged.
Any researchers who wish to assail me on the accuracy of that, please provide your own estimates of when the average male and female who are daily consumers of, say 20mg of THC would ordinarily be safe to drive after their last puff on the Mighty Medic. The Dutch have gone with 15 hours, based on what we know of vaporised ingestion of THC, is there any chance of bringing that non-drive time down under 10 hours? 4-6 even?
Internationally, blood draws are common.
The logistics for increased use of blood draws in Australia are many, complex but not insurmountable. Anyone suspected of impaired driving can be sent off for bloods under current laws. It’s just that if we sent every person who returned a THC positive in saliva off for a blood draw – it would cost lots of money that governments don’t wish to spend and involve police time that the police would prefer to invest elsewhere.
Any relief against the current zero tolerance regime will be welcome, even if that is by way of a very broad legal limit of THC in blood that doesn’t yet have a strong correlation to being unsafe to drive, yet serves the purpose of deterring people from consuming THC and driving within timeframes where they may be impaired. Hopefully, researchers can narrow that window down further from 15 hours but until they do, perhaps this is where the compromise lies.
Until such an interim compromise is reached, outcomes for people like Will only serve to undermine the rule of law.
What do those words actually mean?
It’s problematic for faith in our courts if growing numbers of people feel that the rule of law is not there to protect them but is seemingly out to harm them by removing their right to drive a vehicle and participate in as functional a life as possible. The more people who feel that way, the more that the laws are ignored and violated to the point where they’re still “good law” but they are becoming increasingly ineffective as laws-to-be-obeyed because knee-jerk adherence to the rule of law is undermined by the unjustness of it all.
When punishment that is solely punitive (and not at all remedial) is handed down by courts to people that the overwhelming majority of the population don’t deem to have acted like criminals – that’s when you can say the rule of law has been undermined. When judicial officers step down (thank you David) rather than continue to apply such laws, that’s the alert signal that the undermining is happening right now.
Please continue to forward your hard luck medicinal cannabis and driving matters onto me. The facts will come and the law must change.
*Although ostensibly an article about THC and drug driving law reform, nothing herein is intended to be construed as legal advice. Everyone’s circumstances are unique to them and unique to the idiosyncratic processes by law enforcement in every state/territory. If you need that advice, then by all means contact me.
Don’t print this off and wave it in front of a police officer’s face as if it’s the Magna Carta because it isn’t.
**If your medicinal cannabis prescriber does not wish to provide a letter to the court or if they wish to charge you for the privilege, then also please contact me. If your doctor is seeking guidance on how to write such a letter, have them get in touch with Drive Change.
As medicinal cannabis becomes a more popular solution for patients and prescribers, it also becomes a bigger source of economic growth. Last month, industry leaders gathered together at the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Symposium to discuss triumphs and roadblocks of the budding medicinal cannabis industry. Drive Change lead and former magistrate David Heilpern was there to share his insight on how discriminatory drug driving laws are harming patients, public health, and economic growth.
“This is an industry that’s starting to attract big business from funders who obviously see it as financially viable,” said David Heilpern, referencing medicinal cannabis investors, “I think they’re kidding themselves while these drug-driving laws are there.”
Of course, it’s not just the industry that these drug-driving laws harm, but individual patients and entire communities. Most patients who deal with pain rely on driving to work or just living their daily lives. Though medicinal cannabis remains an illegal substance in the eyes of road police, other impairing pharmaceutical drugs–and drivers who take them–are well within their right to drive while using their medication. These alternatives include benzodiazepines or opioids, both proven through extensive scientific studies to have a greater impairing effect on drivers than cannabis.
“If it was about road safety, it would apply to other prescription drugs,” Heilpern said of the current drug-driving laws before asking rhetorically, “so who wins from this?”
The answer, of course, is clear. Pharmaceutical companies who make and distribute drugs like opiates, benzodiazepines, and other impairing drugs have monopolised the healthcare system for decades. For many years, these drugs were doctors’ and patients’ only options for combatting pain. We know better now.
According to the TGA, clinical studies have proven that patients who are prescribed medicinal cannabis report up to a 50% reduction in pain (especially for neuropathic pain, arthritis, and fibromyalgia); improved sleep and quality of life; and improved anxiety symptoms. Medicinal cannabis has also shown efficacy in reducing symptoms of epilepsy and muscular sclerosis, and it can alleviate the side effects of chemotherapy for cancer patients (although this practice is not yet approved in Australia).
Many patients find better relief from their pain and discomfort when taking medicinal cannabis than traditional drugs, and enjoy a life free from the cumbersome side effects. Unfortunately, because of the law, they have no choice but to deny medicinal cannabis prescriptions.
“Patients go back to their opioids and they drive on the roads probably far more dangerous than they would have if they had taken that [medicinal cannabis] prescription,” he added.
Legislators continue to argue that medicinal cannabis is going to be a problem–but places where it is legal prove the opposite. We don’t even have to look far to see the effects of legal prescription cannabis in drivers. Tasmania legalised medicinal cannabis on the road in 2020.
They have seen no increase in road toll since.
How can we catch up on the mainland? Now that the tides have changed in government, we might have a chance to have our cause heard.
Now more than ever it’s important to write to your local member. Let them know how the drug driving laws affect you, your family, or your loved ones, and direct them to scientific research to back your claims.
You’ll find all the details you need on our BetterLetters campaign page. All you need to do is send the letter and start urging them for change.
If Tasmania can do it, so can the rest of Australia.
This post will give you the details you need to know about NSW Parliament’s latest inquiry into drug driving law reform and how you can lodge your submission. In doing so, you are expressing your unequivocal support of updated drug driving laws that include protection and defences for medicinal cannabis patients.
When the Government conducts an inquiry into an area of law–in this case, they’re revisiting the drug driving laws surrounding medicinal cannabis–the public has the opportunity to present a submission.
This submission is an opportunity to make your opinion known regarding the law in question.
Lodging a submission can be a powerful tool for advocacy in changing these laws. Government officials will consider these documents as they reformulate their thoughts or views on an issue.
What is the purpose of the Drive Change submission?
Written by ex-magistrate and director of Drive Change, David Heilpern, this submission expresses support for the Road Transport Amendment Bill.
In a nutshell, the Drive Change submission says:
All road safety data shows that there is not risk of increased road trauma from medicinal cannabis.
The current laws are discriminate against prescription medicinal cannabis users.
There is evidence to suggest those using other prescription drugs as an alternative to medicinal cannabis rose a greater risk to road safety.
The Tasmanian model and other international examples exemplify that the Bill’s proposed amendments are tried, tested, and safe.
The submission includes sources to scientific research and international law that supports the need for updated drug driving laws. Due 1 May 2022, the community has the chance now to essentially cast a vote and state the reasons for wanting change.
The Road Transport Amendment Bill would mean equal rights to medicinal cannabis patients who drive. That includes granting legal defence to patients who test positive in roadside tests for amounts of THC that are too low to cause impairment or are present in support of a prescription. The only state that currently grants this protection to medicinal cannabis patients in Tasmania.
You can still submit a submission if you do not live in NSW.
Getting the laws updated in the country’s most populous state would create an ideal model that other states and territories can emulate. Your own submission could become a catalyst for change country-wide.
How do I lodge my submission?
1. Access the pre-written submission by copying and pasting from below or downloading the pdf from this link. You can also craft your own. Feel free to use ours as a template or guideline for your own.
2. Once you have the submission saved or downloaded, follow this link to access the submissions page for the “Road Transport Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis-Exemptions from Offenses) Bill 2021” on the Parliament of NSW website.
3. Log your submission:
Make sure the “Submissions” tab is selected. Then, click the button that says “to lodge a submission, click here.”
Select “submit as an individual,” and fill out your details.
Finally, attach the downloaded file into the submissions page and submit.
That’s it! Lodging these submissions allow you to speak directly to Parliament regarding the active conversation for updated drug driving laws. This is the perfect opportunity to voice your opinion and help make change happen.
As you may have seen, we’ve been encouraging the cannabis community to write letters to local members of Parliament. A major part of that campaign is to drive local MPs to the upcoming Drive Change Roundtable for Government officials.
What is the Roundtable?
This Roundtable will serve as a platform to address the discriminatory drug driving laws that are currently in place for medicinal cannabis patients. It is only open to MPs and Government Officials, giving them a chance to learn about and discuss the community’s call for change in a private forum.
The Roundtable will take place on Tuesday, 29 March 2022.
Leading up to this date, we are calling on community members to take a moment to tell their personal stories to MPs through letters. These letters are also an opportunity for the community to encourage MPs to attend the Roundtable.
By bringing your stories to their attention, they can bring your experience to the table. This is how change is made.
Why host a Roundtable?
It’s important that this cause is discussed amongst those who can make change happen. Letting your MPs know why drug driving law reform is important to you is a step towards enacting more fair and equal drug driving laws for cannabis patients.
As a patient or concerned citizen, how can I encourage MPs to go?
Write a letter to tell them your story, explain why reform is important to you, and provide details about the Roundtable. Attending this virtual, government-only event is their opportunity to show they are listening. Giving these officials a time and place to discuss it can be an effective means for getting law reform discussed in Parliament.
In addition to all government attendees, the Roundtable will also feature voices from healthcare, science, and law enforcement. These industry leaders all provide a valuable perspective on how the drug driving laws impact the community.
Teresa Towpik speaks from the perspective of a doctor, patient, and cancer survivor. When it comes to medicinal cannabis, she believes the laws are causing significant harm to people dealing with pain and illness in our society.
Dr Thomas Arkell Cannabis and Driving Research Expert working within the was previously a research candidate at the University of Sydney, where he earned his doctorate. Now he is a Research Fellow at Swinburne University.
Mick Palmer is a former commissioner of the Australian Federal Police. Reflecting on his career, he sees the driving laws as unfit-for-purpose and ends up punishing people already coping with a terminal illness or serious pain.
David Heilpern is an ex-magistrate, lawyer, adjunct professor, and the Drive Change campaign lead. He spent 21 years in Parliament, having been the youngest ever elected member, but left when he found there was too much restraint when it came to speaking out about drug driving law reform.
Fiona Patton (MP) is a leader of Victoria’s Reason Party. She is a vigorous voice in government for drug law reform and has submitted several proposals to the Victorian Parliament championing decriminalisation, cannabis for personal use, and drug driving law reform.
It’s time that Parliament hears the community’s support for drug driving law reform. Write your letter now and urge them to join the conversation with these industry leaders on 29 March.
Getting in touch with your local MP is one of the best ways to speak out in favour of the change you want to see in your community. Medicinal cannabis patients particularly have something that they should be speaking out about the discriminatory drug driving laws. We’ve organised a Letters to Local Members campaign to make it easy to get in touch with the representative for your area and be a voice for change.
Your letter to local members should share your personal experience with medicinal cannabis, how the discriminatory laws impact you, and why drug driving law reform is long overdue. By speaking directly to your local MP, you’re giving them a personalised reason to work toward drug driving law reform. We’ll give you everything you need to write a letter, identify your local MP, and send off your letter. All you need to do is tell your story.
The more patient stories and facts that representatives receive, the more likely they will become a voice for change in government. It all starts with telling your story. Your letter to a local member should be based on facts, but should also give them insight into the way the laws personally impact you. Get personal, speak from the heart, and give MPs a good reason to act in favour of drug driving law reform.
Your email or letter offers an opportunity to act immediately by signing up for the Drive Change Government Roundtable on Tuesday, 29 March. The Roundtable, open to government officials only, will provide a chance to gather for a discussion on the facts, science, and community call for drug driving law reform. Even if they can’t make be there, you should encourage them to sign up so they receive the recording.
A constituent voice–your voice–asking them to attend will make a difference.
The details of this event are provided in the letter for you.
What does this mean for you?
By writing your letter, you’re speaking out for the rights you deserve, and then giving MPs an opportunity to take action. Since the Government Roundtable will take place on 29 March, it’s the perfect chance for them to show up and prove they are doing something about the community’s needs.
Why should you write a letter to local members?
Your local MP is responsible for representing you in government and standing up for your rights. To do that, they need to know what you want.
By writing your story and citing scientific facts, you’re voicing a need for reform of the discriminatory drug driving laws. Sharing your experience can help catalyse change, so remember to let them know how the discriminatory laws are impacting you.
What it all comes down to is one simple fact: medicinal cannabis patients face discrimination. Speak out about your experience and then urge your local member to act on it by attending the Government Roundtable on 29 March.
What should the letter say?
This is your chance to get personal. Your letter needs to share your experience as a medicinal cannabis patient, and describe to your MP how the discriminatory laws impact your life, health, and livelihood.
As an example, you may mention that your life-changing legal medicine is unreasonably at odds with the law. The only legal alternatives to medicinal cannabis are medicines like benzodiazepiness and opioids, etc. which are far more detrimental to your health and well-being.
Some other points to consider for your letter:
What is your medical diagnosis?
What was your health and well-being like before medicinal cannabis?
Why did you switch to medicinal cannabis?
How did cannabis change your life/health for the better?
How are the current discriminatory drug driving laws negatively impacting you?
Drug driving law: facts and figures
Medicinal cannabis patients face discrimination because the current laws don’t match the science. As you write your letter, it will be important to draw from the science to make solid arguments.
Browse the links below to gain an understanding of the studies and politics surrounding the drug-driving laws. You’ll find plenty of helpful stats and quotes within that will strengthen your letter.
Check back in this space regularly as we add more studies and resources.
Time to tell your story: here’s how
Once you review the science and are ready to tell your story, it’s time to write.
You can do this two ways:
To write an email, head to do-gooder to formulate your email and send it directly to your local MP. The templated paragraph included has details about the Roundtable ready to go along with your personalised story.
To write a physical letter, visit our Better Letters page, which is also set up with the information you need to spread the word about the upcoming event. When you select the tab “Write Your Letter”, choose the “Drive Change Template” from the dropdown menu under the Letters option.
If you don’t know who your local MP is, don’t worry. All you need to do is enter your address where prompted and it will send the email to your local rep.
Our plan for this campaign is to give the community a voice in the matter, and hopefully get the Government in favour of a change. The more ways we are able to reach out, the better. Sending a letter in the mail and as an email will make sure your story is heard.
Also, consider sharing your story with us! We are an authority for drug driving law reform and always welcome personal statements and patient stories. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the title “Patient Story” and a photo of yourself (if you’d like) to let us know that you’d like to be featured.
Driving laws in Australia use a zero-tolerance policy for THC in drivers, despite the science that tells us THC presence has no bearing on intoxication. Wanting drug driving law reform is not a radical request. Several other countries have already amended their laws to allow medicinal cannabis patients to maintain their driving rights.
These countries serve as models for how Australia can adjust their laws to be less discriminatory. Take a look at some examples of updated protocols that can be used as a benchmark for drug driving law reform in Australia.
The US State of California legalised medicinal cannabis in 1996. It was met with such success that the recreational mandate followed in 2016. Cannabis patients and purchasers have safely and successfully been on the roads since.
What many don’t know about this legalisation is that there is no legal bloodstream concentration limit for THC in the US state of California. Instead, California drug driving laws rely on field sobriety tests. These tests prove a more effective means for identifying drivers who pose a crash risk; THC metabolites alone are disproven as indicators of intoxication. Law enforcement is trained to detect impaired drivers and conduct these tests as needed.
Additionally, many Californian officers are specialists. There are 1700 specialists in the Californian police force that are certified Drug Recognition Evaluators. And California plans to train even more.
California’s Impaired Driving Task Force called to extend the required standardised field sobriety training from 8 to 24 hours, helping to improve detection of impaired drivers in roadside tests and help create safer roads.
These measures serve as a good example of how fair and just drug driving laws can be adopted as we move past methods that are proven to be outdated and inconsistent. California (population: 39 million) serves as a relatable example of how the laws will unfold in someplace like Australia (25 million people).
Canada legalised cannabis for adult use in 2018. Naturally, this raised concerns about the potential for increased traffic harm–a concern that Australia shares. But instead of maintaining outdated methods based on disproven science, the Canadian government mandated a periodic review of public health consequences of legalising cannabis. The most recent results were released as a report.
The report gathered records from all emergency departments in Ontario and Alberta–two states which account for 50% of the Canadian population. The data looked at moderate-to-severe traffic injuries that resulted in ER visits between April 1, 2015-December 31, 2019.
These inspiring results signal that, through effective laws and well-trained law enforcement, medicinal cannabis can be accessible to the adult population without putting a strain on safety in the community.
Effective measures that end discriminatory laws
As we ask for drug driving law reform, we do so with real-world data and examples to show our legislature that it works to keep people safe.
Of course, even with laws in place, impaired driving remains a risk. This same risk is present with alcohol and other prescription drugs which are already given legal defence in roadsides. Doing so with cannabis is also possible, so long as law enforcement is properly trained.
1. Implement a Task Force
California’s Impaired Driving Task Force is dedicated to evaluating the factors at play for legal cannabis and adjusting the protocols to respond accordingly. Australia can create a similar team of experts to help adopt and enforce more effective policing measures.
For California, training law enforcement for signs of impaired driving has proven to be an effective measure for reducing incidents of impaired driving. With a task force in place, the state saves time and costly resources.
Australia still relies on breath tests for impairment. These tests are costly–a cost covered by taxpayers–and have a history of returning false results. California’s population is similar to that of Australia’s, so offers us a very realistic example of how such measures can be adopted here.
2. Train law enforcement in identifying intoxicated drivers
Another way Australia might be able to improve road safety by updating laws is to implement new training practices for law enforcement officials, as they did in Canada.
Canadian law enforcement is specifically trained to identify impaired drivers, helping to alleviate the need for faulty tests and mitigate road trauma. To conduct a roadside impairment test, Canadian Police may:
Administer a standard Standard Field Sobriety Testing (SFST). If the driver passes the SFST test, they are free to go. If they do not, they’ll be arrested to undergo additional testing.
Conduct a Drug Recognition Expert (DRE) evaluation, involving a series of tests and toxicology reports.
Require the driver to undertake an oral fluid drug screening
Demand a blood sample if there is reason to believe the driver committed an offence.
These Canadian practices offer us an example of cannabis policing that works to protect road safety and the rights of drivers who legally consume cannabis. Australia can do the same, but we’re not there yet. Our government still maintains outdated and costly practices that are proven ineffective and actively discriminate against legal patients.
Measuring impairment has more to do with the individual user, and much less with their blood content. While the drug driving laws continue to use blood and saliva as measures of impairment, up-to-date studies reveal the inaccuracy of these protocols.
One such study published in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews revealed that blood and saliva testing for THC has no actual correlation with impairment. Referencing their own studies as well as data from nearly 30 other publications, the research team was able to shed some light on the differences between measuring THC and alcohol in roadside tests, and which factors play a part in assessing impairment.
The science tells us that, when it comes to measuring cannabis impairment, several factors play a role. These include dose, mode of ingestion, and length of treatment.
A patient who has a long history with medicinal cannabis was less likely to register positive in roadside tests for THC, even when it is present.
On the other hand, the research found that patients with a less frequent dosage would display a positive THC blood content in roadside tests. Police would interpret this as impaired, but do not take into account whether or not there are true signs of intoxication.
“This suggests that blood and oral fluid THC concentrations are relatively poor indicators of cannabis-THC-induced impairment,” says Dr Danielle McCartney
Despite these results showing that THC in blood has no relation to decreased driving performance, testing for presence remains the chosen mode of policing cannabis in Australia.
What can measure impairment?
How police will be able to accurately measure impairment and detect intoxication in drivers remains the biggest issue for medicinal cannabis patients and Australia’s road safety. However, the data provides a clear view into a method that is not working and opens the door to more effective opportunities.
One possible avenue that can help us better understand the effects of cannabis on driving is technology.
“Smartphone apps that may help people assess their impairment before driving are currently under development and may also prove useful,” said research and Drive Change ambassador Dr. Thomas Arkell
Ways to support Drive Change:
If the laws wrongly identify medicinal cannabis patients as intoxicated, while some drivers who are intoxicated do not register, then the laws are failing to effectively protect citizens on the road. It also discriminates against the thousands of medicinal cannabis patients who drive responsibly.
A word of caution: the science also tells us that drivers shouldn’t rely on their own judgment of impairment to deem themselves fit to drive. Instead, medicinal cannabis patients should be vocal about their condition, their positive experiences with medicinal cannabis, and how the discriminatory laws affect them. One way of doing so is by writing to local MPs.
We know that reaching out directly is one of the most effective ways to create change, and this is your chance to make it happen.
Last year, we saw our ambassador Cate Faehrmann call on officials to throw out all the roadside drug tests in Nimbin during Mardi Grass weekend, citing contamination. Now, she’s taking an even bigger swing at the unjust drug driving laws with the introduction of two new bills, and one of them may help us see our goal of more effective laws being realised.
The Road Transport Amendment Bill
The “Road Transport Amendment Bill” aims to give medicinal cannabis patients the same rights as any other patients in Australia who take prescription medicine. This means that they will not be penalised for driving if they have a valid prescription and can prove they are not impaired–the rights that all other patients also have.
A member of the Greens NSW, Cate Faehrmann is a vocal proponent of drug reform. She has introduced several bills throughout her career, but this one truly gets to the heart of the matter for medicinal cannabis patients and their rights to drive, something she says is “long overdue and increasingly urgent.”
This bill would amend our current driving laws, making them safer than they currently are and giving rights to medicinal cannabis patients. Drivers today are limited to medical options, like benzodiazepines, opiates, and morphine–which pose an even greater threat to road safety.
“Roadside drug tests are incredibly sensitive. Patients can test positive 24 hours or more after they have consumed cannabis, well after any impairment has worn off.”
Cate Faehrmann uses scientific research to support the latest bills, and states: “This bill would simply provide the same medical defence that is already given to morphine patients. Medicinal cannabis is far safer than morphine on and off the road, but medicinal cannabis patients who test positive face damaging drug driving charges.”
If it passes, this bill will finally grant legal defence to medicinal cannabis patients who test positive in roadside tests, so long as they are within their legal rights and they are not impaired. Currently, the only state which grants this protection to medicinal cannabis patients in Tasmania.
Seeing this bill brought to the government means we may be able to see change soon, but it’s not guaranteed yet.
“It should have happened when medicinal cannabis was legalised at the federal level in 2016,” Cate Faehrmann says. “Instead medicinal cannabis patients have been discriminated against and forced not to drive because our laws haven’t kept up.”
What you can do to show support
As the government deliberates their stance on this bill, the community can urge them to enact the change we desperately need. Writing to your local MP is one way to ensure they know the community supports the implementation of these amended driving laws.
In conjunction with the Road Transport Amendment Bill, Ms Faehrmann also introduced the Cannabis Industry Bill 2021. This second bill aims to legalise medicinal cannabis for personal use. Though this would be an important step forward, protecting existing medicinal cannabis patients, many who have long been dealing with discrimination on the roadsides, is where we need to keep our focus.
Both of these bills will be up for debate in 2022.