THC improved my life; now, these unjust laws are hurting me.

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. 

Deborah A

My pain

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. 

I am supportive of the fight for Change.

Drive Change honoured to have presented to AMCA board on 4/20

Read time: 3.3 Min

The current state of Change

It has been three months since the Drive Change campaign held its first Supporters & Stakeholder meeting. At the meeting, the Drive Change team presented why this campaign is crucial for future and existing patients. The team also asked both industry (product producers, importers and suppliers and the industry bodies to provide support.  

Since December, Drive Change has gained massive traction and has raised seed funding of roughly $11,500. With those funds, the team has been able to spend time working on initiatives that have led to:

  • Partnership with Tammy Franks MLC from South Australia.
  • Expanded our social presence.
  • Reaching over 35,000 people via Drive Change channels in the last 30 days.
  • Helping individuals disadvantaged by these laws to find legal counsel.
  • And sharing patient stories with decision makers.

These are all significant steps toward making some long overdue legislative change. 

Presenting to the AMCA

On Tuesday 20th April (yes, 4/20), David Heilpern and Tom Brown, members of the Drive Change Team, presented to the Australian Medicinal Cannabis Association (AMCA) Board. The AMCA is one of two industry bodies. The AMCA is the patient focussed industry body. The AMCA has supported the Drive Change campaign from the beginning and has now given us the opportunity to tell them what we need to work for Australian patients. 

It was an honour for the Drive Change team to speak to such an influential group. Readers of this may not know, but Lucy Haslam is the chair of the AMCA. Lucy was a driving force behind the legalisation of Medicinal Cannabis in Australia. Lucy has been an ambassador for change for years now, and we are excited to have her support and backing to help fight these injustices. 

Uniting industry, patients and government

We were excited for the chance to encourage AMCA’s industry members to get behind the campaign. Drive Change is an opportunity for the industry to unite with one message and to join others in being a voice for patients, Australia-wide. Drive Change is an excellent opportunity for a coordinated and collaborative campaign that can bring industry, patients and political figures together for change.

Drive Change is an excellent opportunity for a coordinated and collaborative campaign that brings industry bodies such as AMCA and the Medicinal Cannabis Industry Association (MCIA) and patients and political figures together. 

drive change discrimination - medical cannabis no defence for presence

Our current discriminatory laws depict individuals who need a better quality of life as criminals. The laws are destroying the lives of patients taking a medication that their healthcare practitioners have prescribed. 

We believe that together we are stronger. Together we can make a Change.

A Challenge For Change

Drive Change is a non-profit organisation. To date, the Drive Change campaign has raised about $11,500 that has been put toward changing the current laws for patients.

breakdown of $11500 raised to date

To date we’ve spent most of that money on campaign setup. Now we can shift our focus to Advocacy and marketing the Drive Change campaign.

Harm Reduction Australia provided a startup fund of $5,000.

Patients – the individuals we’re working for have donated about $1500.

In an industry of over 100 companies – only 5 of those companies have donated for a total of approximately $5,000. It is our hope that all companies will support and donate to this important campaign for patients.

financial supporters of drive change
Supporters as of 4/20/2021

With industry bodies like the AMCA holding membership of all types of cannabis industry stakeholders, we have been generously supported by their Board to help us raise funds. The AMCA membership is made up of over 100 companies and individuals, all of who have some stake in the cannabis industry that is – patients.

help fund change 35000 change challenge drive change

We asked the AMCA to help us raise $35,000 tax-deductible dollars from its members to help change laws that will benefit medicinal cannabis patients. This is our Challenge for Change.

If we can raise $35,000 from the AMCA members and $35,000 from the MCIA members – we should have enough funds to run Drive Change for a long enough period to make a real difference.

Conclusion

The industry must do better. The industry associations have the ear of the industry. The industry and these organisations have the ear of the government – that’s what big dollars do.

Patients need the entire industry to start financially supporting advocacy efforts or, to put it bluntly, start putting their money where their mouths are. 

The industry is made up of manufacturers, licensed producers, clinics, importers, exporters – any company that makes money from patients or is here to serve patients. We need your help. Most importantly, patients need your help. 

Without a coordinated effort to Change this outdated and unjust law, patients will continue to suffer and be punished.

For patients reading this – we need you to pressure both government and industry bodies to get behind the Drive Change movement.

We look forward to keeping all of the Drive Change supporters up to date on our progress and the outcome of all of our future efforts.

Once again, we’d like to thank the AMCA and the AMCA board for allowing us to present Drive Change to the board and its members.

8 Problems With Current Drug Driving Laws & Medicinal Cannabis

Read time: 3.4 Min

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.

Steve, NSW

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:

  1. Presence doesn’t mean impairment.
  2. The time THC can stay in your system is different for each person.
  3. No matter what anyone tells you about how long to wait – they aren’t 100% correct (refer to point 2).
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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).
  7. The roadside swabs regularly give false positives and false negatives.
  8. 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.

SA Greens MLC Tammy Franks Joins The Drive Change Movement

Read time: 1.5 Min Read

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.”

To read more about the Bill and how Ms Franks is fighting hard to help bring positive change for medicinal cannabis patients, you can read this post on the Road Traffic (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill 2021.

How to argue with those who support drug driving testing

We are now at 200,000 tests each year in NSW. Similar numbers in Victoria. Tens of thousands in every other state. I reckon we will be close to a million next year. That is a frigging big number. I have spoken in the press for a solid nine months.

The Drive Change campaign, which is fighting for equal rights for legal medical cannabis patients has had no refutation. Not one word of justification from the police or the road safety gurus. And that is because it is unjustifiable. Here is a response to those mythical people (do they exist?) who seek to justify Australia’s current drug driving practices.

Argument 1: But it’s random, so your chances of getting caught are minuscule.

It is not random. First, the police utilise number plate recognition to identify and test ‘suspicious’ vehicles. This, of course, includes vehicles where the driver has previously been in contact with the police and even more those who have previously been dealt with for drug detection driving. Second, the testing sites are often set up outside music festivals and in areas where drug use is high. And let’s not even talk about Mardi Grass blanket testing.

Argument 2: It’s a road safety measure.

It is not a road safety measure – it is a prohibition measure. If it was a road safety measure, it would have been ditched by now because there is no evidence that it has impacted the death or injury toll at all.

When random breath testing, seatbelts, airbags and 50km speed limits were introduced, all had a noticeable, provable impact on the road toll. Not so with drug driving measures. And this is not surprising given that it does not test affectation – see 3 below.

Argument 3: It stops people driving under the influence.

There is a separate offence of driving under the influence. In the thousands of cases of drug driving I dealt with as a Magistrate, I did not see a single set of facts alleging that the person was adversely affected by the drug.

And that is not surprising because they would have been charged with the other, more serious offence if they were. Besides, the testing levels are so low they do not equate to affectation at all – unlike alcohol.

Argument 4: But cannabis is illegal anyway.

That is true for some cannabis, but not for all. Cannabis is now prescribed widely in Australia with the approval of every government in the country. Even those with a prescription are subject to these laws. It is legal to use cannabis in many places in the world, including the Australian Capital Territory.

I saw many people who had returned from these places days ago and were still detected under the current regime. They had not committed any crime. Secondly, there are many illegal things (rape, murder, theft, domestic and family violence). Of course, none of these leads to a loss of licence because none make our roads more dangerous. The presence of THC in your mouth does not necessarily make you or your driving more dangerous.

Argument 5: Death and Injury stats show that illicit drugs are the major cause of road trauma.

This is false, and studies that seek to prove this are either anecdotal or unreliable. The major substance cause of death or injury is, in order: 

  1. Alcohol
  2. Prescription drugs.

One study seeks to connect high rates of cannabis detection in those who have died in motor vehicle incidents with road trauma. However, this study specifically does not make any causation claims. The detection levels are 2 nanograms, which no one seriously suggests has anything like a negative influence on driving. The counterarguments are pretty clear.

Argument 6: But it’s only a traffic offence – you don’t get a criminal record.

This is not true either. 

Although there are some differences between states, in essence, any conviction (or even where the offence is found proven, but a conviction is not recorded) still has significant impacts on employment, insurance and travel. No matter how it is defined, you also have a police record and court record of the suspension, fine or disqualification.

Argument 7: Well, it discourages drug use, and that must be a good thing.

It discourages some drug use, particularly cannabis. It does not discourage

  • Alcohol
  • Prescription drugs
  • Opioids including heroin
  • LSD
  • Magic mushrooms or
  • Many synthetic drugs. 

Also, cocaine is not tested in some States. 

Cannabis is fat-soluble and can remain in your system for a very long time, long after you’re impairment (if any) ends. And with cannabis patients, impairment is rare.

This testing methodology also encourages the use of amphetamines and cocaine because although they are detectable, the word on the street is that you are clear of those within 48 hours. And that is probably correct. I have yet to see a public health argument that supports these drug choices over medicinal or responsible use of cannabis.

Argument 8: Nowhere else has granted a medicinal exception because it is technically impossible. 

This is just not true. Tasmania has a medical/prescription exception, and the sky has not fallen in. Also, there are medical exceptions in the United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, Norway and New Zealand. There are proposals for change before the Victorian and South Australian parliaments

Those who oppose medical exemptions generally have a vested interest – the police, big pharma and the alcohol lobby. Bizarrely, in NSW, there is a medical exemption for morphine, but not for cannabis. Go figure. 

Argument 9: It does not affect your insurance if it is only a detectable level. 

Well, let’s have a look at this policy from AAMI where there is an exclusion if your car is being driven by “anyone who had more than the legal limit for alcohol or drugs in their breath, blood, saliva or urine as shown by analysis”. 

Given that the legal limit for detection offences is zero, this poses real problems for those following their doctor’s directions or an illicit user with a minute detection. 

Argument 10: Prescription drugs are safer for drivers than cannabis. 

No evidence shows this. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that those who use cannabis on prescription reduce their use of prescription drugs, particularly opioids – generally by half. In other words, there is a strong argument that drivers with merely detectable levels are likely to be less affected than if they are driving on prescription drugs.

And this makes sense – we all know people who are using medicinal cannabis for (say) generalised pain and, as a result, use much fewer prescription medicines like opioids and benzodiazepines. 

Tammy Franks Invites Drive Change Team To South Australian Parliament

Read time: 3 Min Read

Blog cover image by hypnotiseme.

A bill for change.

On Wednesday, 3 February 2021, I addressed a roundtable meeting of parliamentarians in Parliament House Adelaide via Microsoft Teams. This was at the invitation of Tammy Frank, Greens MLC. Tammy has been a Greens member of South Australia’s upper house since 2010. The roundtable was organised to coincide with the introduction of a bill in the upper house. The bill recommends a framework to provide a medical defence to the offence of drug-detected driving for legal medicinal cannabis patients.

Drumming up support.

There were 15 members of parliament or staffers present and Dr Joel Wren, a local medicinal cannabis prescriber. I was asked to speak to the group as the Drive Change Campaign Lead to outline my experience with drug driving laws and why they needed to change. Tammy requested that I focus on distinguishing between driving under the influence and drug-detection driving in an effort to get bipartisan support for her bill. 

Tammy described her motivation for changing the laws when they were introduced to parliament as follows: 

“Australia is the only jurisdiction that prevents medicinal cannabis patients from driving while they are using their prescribed medication, even when they are not actually impaired,” she said. “Our current laws are based on stigma, not science. Medicinal cannabis patients deserve to be treated the same as any other patient who is taking prescribed medication.”

The slides below outline the content of my speech to the roundtable.

Questions & answers.

There was a selection of questions that highlighted common concerns. I addressed these questions with answers from a previous blog post, “How to argue with those who support the current drug driving regime” (To be published on Drive Change soon). 

One little known fact which I highlighted is that Tasmania has had a medical defence for over five years, and there have been no reported problems as a result. 

There was one question and answer that is worth highlighting, which I have paraphrased below. 

Q: If these laws go through, what is to stop a person from having four bongs at lunchtime, driving, and then relying on these laws to excuse his danger to the community. 

A: Imagine if you substitute cannabis at lunchtime for four Valium tablets. The police would have the power to stop, detain, blood test and suspend the driver as soon as they formed a reasonable suspicion that he was driving under the influence of a drug – any drug. 

The defence would only apply if the driver was prescribed, taking cannabis as per the prescription and not driving under the influence. So, the community would be protected in the same way that they are currently protected for all other prescription drugs. 

There would not be any increased risk to the community, and only those who were not a danger would be able to rely on the defence. 

This was a valuable opportunity to directly address lawmakers on the benefits of changing the drug laws under the Drive Change campaign’s banner. Time will tell if the bill becomes law in South Australia, but at the very least, the parliamentarians had the opportunity to hear the key messages of our campaign. 

Positive momentum.

In the last few months, there has been legislative action in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia. In each case, Drive Change has been at the forefront of supporting the initiators of change and liaising with other parliamentarians. 

We are actively in discussions in the ACT, and of course, Tasmania is the exemplar of existing provisions. In the South Australian examples, we were approached to provide statistical and practical support for their initiatives, which shows that Drive Change is starting to make a mark where it counts. 

Of course, the proof will be in the pudding, and Victoria is likely to be the first mainland jurisdiction to change. I suspect that the next parliamentary focus will be the ACT, where cannabis possession has been effectively legalised.  

Drug law reform in Australia is glacially slow. Even the most sensible and minor changes face resistance from entrenched private and public institutions, as well as sensationalist opposition from the tabloid and shock-jock sections of the media. But we will not be daunted or demoralised because in the back of our mind are those patients whose lives are being ruined by these unnecessary, counterproductive laws and the medicinal cannabis industry that faces huge hurdles while ever they remain.