Bill prepares the way for cannabis driving trial
6 November 2023 Read the bill brief
A bill to support a trial assessing the effects of medicinal cannabis on driving behaviour will go to the Legislative Council for consideration after passing the Legislative Assembly last week.
The measure is included in the Transport Legislation Amendment Bill 2023, an ‘omnibus bill’ that also allows local government to manage issues relating to vehicle-sharing schemes, such as e-scooters. It also makes a series of other changes to transport laws relating to V/Line and bus services and several other minor amendments to transport laws.
The legislation is the subject of a bill brief from the Parliamentary Library that summarises stakeholder discussion and responses to the bill, outlines key issues, and compares the laws to those in other Australian, as well as international, jurisdictions.
In her second reading speech Minister for Roads and Road Safety, Melissa Horne said the main purpose of the bill was to enable the conduct of a world leading research trial into medicinal cannabis and driving.
‘While this is a road safety challenge, it is also an issue of human rights – we currently have a situation where Victorians are forced to choose between taking prescribed medicinal cannabis to treat medical conditions and being able to drive,’ she said.
“ It also does not stop them potentially using marijuana/cannabis recreationally and then being able to drive and then show their prescription to a police officer when they are pulled over and say ‘Hey, I’m off scot-free’. ”
Danny O'Brien, Member for Gippsland
In his speech Member for Gippsland Danny O’Brien described the issue as ‘somewhat of a wicked problem for government policymakers to address’.
‘If someone is a prescribed user, using it for whatever ailment they may have – it is often for pain and it is often for insomnia that people are using medicinal cannabis – it also does not stop them potentially using marijuana/cannabis recreationally and then being able to drive and then show their prescription to a police officer when they are pulled over and say ‘Hey, I’m off scot-free’. I guess that is the potential ramification that we have with simply providing an exemption,’ he said.
Member for Sunbury Josh Bull, in his speech, told the house the government was trying to ‘strike the right balance’.
‘There is a significant amount of work that has been done in the medicinal cannabis space, making sure that we are providing the very best options for those that are experiencing challenges and relying on medicinal cannabis to treat their various conditions. This needs to be supported so that those individuals can get the treatment they need but also not be penalised by our authorities for being on the road,’ he said.
“ [My] family member now faces loss of licence because the current law does not distinguish between driving under the influence and detection of drugs in the system with cannabis. ”
Chris Crewther, Member for Mornington
Member for Eildon Cindy McLeish noted the trial would be held on a closed circuit in a controlled driving environment, providing important information for potential future legislative changes.
'So if it is in your system for a longer period and you are not influenced by it and you are pinged for drug driving, so to speak, that does not seem very fair. I think we are very open-minded to this particular part of the legislation that is before us,’ she said.
“ We have laws and legal status for drugs that are largely political and arbitrary and that are not based on science and not based on safety or on reducing harm ”
Tim Read, Member for Brunswick
Member for Mornington, Chris Crewther in his speech related the story of a member of his family who has struggled with mental health issues and takes medicinal cannabis to help them sleep.
Although they recently got their life and mental health back in order and purchased a vehicle to start a small business, that is now at risk due to returning a positive drug reading during a roadside test.
'This family member now faces loss of licence because the current law does not distinguish between driving under the influence and detection of drugs in the system with cannabis,’ he said.
‘There is no defence as well against detection of drugs. I am afraid that this will mean that this family member cannot now commence and operate their business, and after so many years it could lead to a downward spiral again.’
Member for Brunswick Dr Tim Read said there are prescription drugs that are much more powerful sedatives than cannabis, yet are not outlawed for Victorian drivers.
'I do wonder why we are stopping here and why we are not undertaking scientific trials for other drug policies and laws in terms of their impact on public safety and public health, because what we will find is that we have laws and legal status for drugs that are largely political and arbitrary and that are not based on science and not based on safety or on reducing harm,’ he said.
The full debate is available to read in Hansard.