The Liberal-National and Labor Parties have together voted down a Greens’ bill in NSW Parliament that would amend the drug driving laws in the state to prevent patients lawfully prescribed medicinal cannabis from being arrested.
The Road Transport Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis – Exemptions from Offences) Bill 2021 was introduced into the Legislative Council on 17 November 2021 by Greens MP Cate Faehrmann. It was designed to provide a defence for medicinal cannabis patients against drug driving charges if they were not impaired and had taken their medicine as prescribed.
The bill was defeated 29 votes to 6.
Medicinal cannabis, which has been legal in Australia since 2016, is widely prescribed throughout the country, predominantly for the management of chronic pain. Mental health disorders like anxiety and depression are other leading causes of prescription. According to the latest data from the Therapeutic Goods Administration, Some 270,000 patients have been given legal access to the controversial drug in the past six years.
Only Tasmania currently makes an exception for driving with cannabis present in your system. The current tests used in road-side drug detection indicate the mere presence of cannabinoids in a user’s saliva, not whether they are impaired or fit to drive.
Cannabinoids can be detected for up to two weeks prior to use, depending on the individual, meaning many people who use medicinal cannabis either forfeit their right to drive or run the risk of losing their licence and facing heavy fines or even jail time.
The decisions made by thousands of patients throughout the country are whether to continue to suffer the effects of their chronic condition or run the criminal gauntlet.
Mark Latham, One Nation member who is currently serving on the legislative council in NSW, shouted “pass the bong” after the vote was denied. Members of the chamber were heard laughing in response.
Faehrmann, who is the Greens’ spokesperson for Drug Law Reform and Harm Reduction, called the behaviour “appalling.”
More appalling behaviour in the NSW Upper House with one MP (Mark Latham) yelling 'pass the bong' as my bill to allow medicinal cannabis patients in NSW to drive while not impaired was voted down last night.
And government ministers thought it was hilarious.#nswpol pic.twitter.com/2OVyrCxxaz
— Cate Faehrmann 🌏🐨 (@greencate) October 13, 2022
“It’s incredibly disappointing that the Government and Labor have joined forces to allow these unjustifiable laws to continue to unfairly punish medicinal cannabis patients in NSW,” Faehrmann said in response to the result.
“Roadside drug tests can detect miniscule traces of THC in the system of a person who has consumed cannabis long after any effects have worn off. Our road laws should have been reformed to reflect his when medical cannabis was legalised five years ago.
“Until our road laws are changed medicinal cannabis users will continue to face discrimination.
“It was very disappointing that government speakers to the bill conflated illicit cannabis with legal medicinal cannabis use. They seemed to have very little understanding of the plight of tens of thousands of medicinal cannabis patients in NSW.
“Increasingly, people are turning to cannabis because it is the only medicine that brings them relief from conditions like PTSD or chronic pain. These patients will now continue to be forced to choose between driving or using the one medicine that works for them.
“Other jurisdictions have successfully allowed cannabis patients to drive and so should NSW.
“Make no mistake. The Greens will be bringing this bill back as a priority in the next term of parliament until this sensible reform gets done,” said Cate Faehrmann.