The Victorian parliament has passed new laws that will allow medical cannabis users to get behind the wheel on a closed road. These new laws are part of a trial that will look into the impact marijuana has on a person’s driving ability.
In 2016, Victoria was the first Australian state to legalize medical cannabis. However, individuals part of this program can still face legal consequences if they’re found to have tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system while driving.
The difficulty with this is THC can remain in a person’s system long after the “high” has worn out. That said, you can find yourself with an offense even if you haven’t consumed it for a few days. As of this time, Tasmania is the only state that allows for a medical defense if THC is found in a driver’s body fluids.
This is the primary importance of Victoria’s trial – to determine what’s a safe level of THC to be driving with. Many Victorian medical marijuana users have raised concerns about the risk of losing their license or being fined. The Victoria parliament had initially addressed these concerns in 2021, but efforts were delayed due to COVID-19.
The government plans to commission an independent research organization (currently undetermined) which will be supported by the Department of Transport and Planning. And they’ve made sure to note that this research will take place in a controlled-driving environment that’s separated from public roads.
Such efforts couldn’t come at a better time. According to road safety minister, Melissa Horne, the number of medical marijuana patients in Victoria has increased more than 700% over the last 2 years.
The Importance of Understanding Cannabis’s Effects on Drivers
While Victoria can recognize the many benefits medical cannabis provides to residents, there remain “significant gaps” in their understanding of THC. More specifically, how it affects drivers and what the risk is for road safety.
“This bill will allow us to deliver a world-leading research trial into medical cannabis and driving, enhancing our understanding of how cannabis affects driving behaviour and informing future reform,” Horne said.
There have been other efforts for reforms to road laws and medical marijuana. For example, upper house MPs Rachel Payne and David Ettershank, of the Legalise Cannabis party, have been championing for it to no longer be an offense if a driver who has detectable levels of THC in bodily fluid is unimpaired. Both Payne and Ettershank support the current trial but are concerned it will take too long.
“The reality is patients continue to wait,” Payne said. “Medicinal cannabis has been prescribed since 2016, that’s a long time for patients to have to wait for a resolution.”
She continued: “A medicinal cannabis patient should be treated like any other patient who is prescribed medicine by a doctor who also provides appropriate advice about when that patient is safe to drive.”
Beyond this information, it would also help to have a way of testing impairment. Since law enforcement can’t resort to surefire results as seen with a blood-alcohol test, it would also benefit Victoria to determine a proper physical test to decide on a driver’s state of intoxication.