Victoria’s drug-driving laws are set to be overhauled for medicinal cannabis users, with both major parties backing a push by Legalise Cannabis over the “unfair” rules.
Debate on the Road Safety Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis) bill, introduced by the newly elected Legalise Cannabis MPs, was adjourned on Wednesday after the government committed to addressing the issue within months.
The bill seeks to change the state’s road safety laws to treat medicinal cannabis like other prescription medications for drivers. Currently, it is an offence for a person to drive with any trace of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis, in their system, even if they have a prescription from their doctor.
The Labor MP Harriet Shing, who is a member of the medicinal cannabis and safe driving working group established by the government, said finding a “distinction between presence [of THC] and impairment” was a “significant priority”.
“This work has been going on for a number of years now. The working group has actually discussed at length the complexities of this matter and the options and opportunities that might be available,” she told the upper house on Wednesday.
“We need … to find a way through all of this so that all drivers are able to be safe on our roads and so that we can provide those medical supports that Victorians need and indeed deserve.”
The opposition leader in the upper house, Matt Bach, said the Coalition viewed the current system as “unfair” and “inconsistent” for 65,000 Victorians currently prescribed medicinal cannabis.
“Motorists taking other prescribed drugs like antidepressants, perhaps opiates, even antihistamines, may be impaired for driving purposes, but these drugs are not tested by police,” he said.
While Victoria in 2016 became the first state to approve the use of medicinal cannabis, it remains an offence for a person to drive with any trace of THC in their system.
This is despite the fact THC can be present in a driver’s system for long periods of time, even after the initial effects have worn off.
It’s an issue the government has been grappling with for several years, prompting the establishment of the medicinal cannabis and safe driving working group, which commissioned three universities to conduct additional research in 2021.
This included a study at Swinburne University to measure the driving performance and cognitive function of Victorians prescribed medicinal cannabis.
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Shing said she expected the Legalise Cannabis MPs David Ettershank and Rachel Payne to meet with the roads and road safety minister, Ben Carroll, to progress work on the matter within the next month.
“There is a sense of purpose and there is a sense of urgency about how we progress this work and this is a conversation which I am optimistic will enable this work to continue,” she said.
Payne said she was “heartened to see the whole chamber – for the first time – acknowledge that Victoria’s drug-driving laws unfairly discriminate against medicinal cannabis patients”.
“Given the bipartisanship on display this morning, and good will from the government, we are hopeful a solution can be found fast, considering the negative impact the law currently has on Victorian patients every day,” she told Guardian Australia.
Payne did not rule out bringing the party’s bill to a vote if progress stalls.
“The government has given their commitment to make this a significant priority. We will take them at their word and won’t bring our bill to a vote while we work through this process,” she said.
“We expect to see notable progress within months.”