The Australian state of Victoria has introduced new legislation to support a world-leading trial assessing the effects of medicinal cannabis on driving.
The Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2023 will enable the government to run a closed-circuit trial to investigate if there are conditions under which individuals who are prescribed medicinal cannabis, which contains delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), can drive safely.
The proposed trial will be developed and implemented by an independent research organisation, with governance provided by the Department of Transport and Planning, road safety partners and experts and health professionals.
The trial will take place in a controlled driving environment away from public roads, with safety considerations for all participants and research staff said to be a ‘priority’.
In order for a research trial on the effects of medicinal cannabis on driving impairment to be lawfully conducted, trial participants will need to display driving behaviours which potentially may constitute offences under the Road Safety Act 1986.
Over 600,000 Australians are thought to be prescribed medical cannabis, with an increase of more than 700% in the number of patients prescribed the treatment in Victoria over the past two years.
Many patients feel they can drive safely on their medication, but further research is needed to understand the relationship between THC concentrations from medicinal cannabis and road safety risk to aid potential regulatory reform.
Significant gaps remain in understanding THC’s potential impairment on driving performance in different driver cohorts.
Work is also underway to develop a Medicinal Cannabis Clinical Decision Support tool to support health professionals in providing appropriate advice and considering the driving requirements of their patients when prescribing medicinal cannabis.
The Labor Government is also reviewing the road safety outcomes in other countries to ensure Victoria has access to the latest information and data on medicinal cannabis and driving.
A steering committee involving road safety partners will be established to monitor the initiatives, with all data and evidence to be carefully considered before any future recommendations.
Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Melissa Horne, commented: “This Bill will allow us to deliver a world-leading research trial into medicinal cannabis and driving, enhancing our understanding of how medicinal cannabis affects driving behaviour and informing future reform.”
A long road ahead?
The trial is expected to take 18 months to complete, meaning any regulatory change is unlikely to come into force until at least 2025.
The Australian Lawyers Alliance has called for prosecutions of those who are prescribed cannabis to be paused while the trial is underway, if there is no evidence their driving is impaired.
Mr Greg Barns SC, criminal justice spokesperson for the organisation, said: “Cases are coming before the courts every week where people are losing their licence and their livelihood because they are taking prescribed medicinal cannabis and driving.
“Drivers who take opioids or other prescription medication do not find themselves in court or risk losing their licence, and neither should drivers who have taken a prescribed and legal dose of cannabis.
“We are pleased to see progress on this issue in Victoria but there is no need for a trial. This will just delay making a change to these outdated and unfair laws that severely penalise medicinal cannabis patients.”
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