Victoria’s cannabis laws are causing countless chronically ill people to instead take addictive prescription medications, a doctor has warned.
It comes amid proposed new laws for the state which would allow to users to drive with the drug detectable in their system.
The bill was introduced to the upper house on Wednesday by members of the Legalise Cannabis Party which nabbed two seats at the last election.
Among the changes to the Road Safety act would include it no longer being an offence for otherwise unimpaired drivers to have detectable tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their blood or oral fluid.
TCH is the primary psychoactive substance from cannabis.
Dr Karen Hitchcock, who works as a GP specialising in medicinal cannabis, said Victoria’s current laws were pushing patients towards other prescription drugs.
“I am referred patients with insomnia, often to assist them to withdraw from addictive drugs with overdose potential – benzodiazepines such as valium and temazepam, opiates, antipsychotics such as quetiapine, and hypnotics,” she said.
Dr Hitchcock said a dose of cannabis oil before bed is “often all that is required” to treat symptoms but this can stay in a driver’s system after “the effects of the cannabis have long abated”.
“Unfortunately by morning, the patient may still have traces of THC in their saliva, and it may be detected in their blood for weeks,” she said.
“Many patients choose to stay on their more dangerous and more addictive medications because of the driving laws. Others take a risk, as the relief and increase in quality of life now that they are sleeping soundly are worth the risk of losing their licence.
Dr Hitchcock went on to say the current laws could cause pain-stricken drivers to become a danger on the roads due to a lack of sleep.
“Sleep deprivation, we know, grossly impairs driving ability. It is time the laws were changed to reflect the reality that cannabis is a medicine,” she said.
“It is time we stopped mistaking innocent citizens for criminals”.
Legalise Cannabis Victoria MP David Ettershank, who represents the Western Metropolitan region, said the laws should be focused on impairment, not just THC being present.
“People who have been prescribed a medicine and can drive safely should be allowed to drive – this is how we treat every single prescription medicine in Victoria, except medicinal cannabis, and it’s time for that to be corrected,” he said.
“Testing for the sheer presence of THC rather than impairment is not right. This failure is based on stigma rather than evidence and the law for cannabis needs to be brought in line with all other prescription medicines.”
Currently, Tasmania is the only state which provides a medical defence for driving with the presence of THC in bodily fluids.
This is only applicable if the medicinal cannabis is obtained and administered in accordance with state laws.
In response to a Bill on the issue in 2019, the Victorian government established the Medicinal Cannabis and Safe Driving Working Group and commissioned research into its potential impact.
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