As the countdown continues to recreational cannabis legalisation in Canada, there’s also a fair bit of action on the other side of the world. Recently, the Federal government of Australia made the decision to implement new legislation regarding easier and more widespread access to medical cannabis. As it came somewhat out of the blue however, lawmakers and regulators are finding it difficult to keep pace.
Tasked with the job of watching over the medical cannabis industry, the Office of Drug Control is facing pressure from all sides. Advocates and patient groups are demanding the office take a fair and liberal approach to medical cannabis access and use – critics (unsurprisingly) are calling for decisive action against those who break the law.
Nevertheless, there’s one glaring hole in the current legal framework – that being driving under the influence of medical cannabis.
Of course, it’s hardly the kind of issue that those in the cannabis community worldwide aren’t already fully familiar with. Given the fact that it is such a complicated issue with no black and white solution, even lawmakers are struggling to come up with any kind of workable legislative framework that deals with cannabis driving.
Nevertheless, the state of South Australia looks set to become the first to go ahead with new legislation that will increase the severity of punishments for those busted driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Upon announcing the new programme, Police Minister Peter Malinauskas stated that THC tests will be carried out on drivers at the roadside, as a means by which to “ensure that the THC is no longer present in their system prior to driving.”
All of which immediately raises one somewhat troubling issue. Which is, of course, the fact that it is perfectly possible and quite normal for traces of THC to remain within the body for weeks after being consumed. Suffice to say, it’s not as if smoking a joint today is going to have any impact on your ability to drive a car a week or so later. Not only this, but medical cannabis is prescribed uniquely in terms of both strains and recommended dosages, in accordance with the needs of the individual in question.
Sadly, the proposed approach to cannabis driving legislation doesn’t appear to take either of these things into account.
So it’s clearly going to prove problematic if it all goes ahead. Nevertheless, it seems that the same kind of strict and somewhat one sided approach may also be on the cards for other territories across Australia.
“Under the Road Transport Act 2013, it is illegal to drive with delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol specifically, also known as THC, present in saliva, blood or urine,” said New South Wales senior public affairs adviser on road safety, Alistair Adams-Smith, in an interview with Leafly.
“The offence applies regardless of the source of the THC, or the reason that the cannabis or cannabis products that contain the THC may have been consumed or used,” he added.
He went on to state that CBD and other cannabis compounds were of no specific interest in terms of driving laws, while acknowledging the fact that how long THC sticks around in the system of any given patient is something that can vary significantly from one to the next.
“Detection timeframes for a roadside [mobile drug testing] saliva test depend on the drug or drugs taken, the dosage, and the potency of the drug,” he said.
“Individuals vary, and heavy or excessive drug use, or use in combination with other drugs may extend the effects.”
But while some have argued that the legislation takes aim at those using cannabis legally for medical purposes, others highlight the fact that there are hundreds of other prescription medications that should not be used if and when planning to drive.
Once again, a contentious issue the folks in Australia seem to be having just as much trouble with as authorities the world over.