Alice Davy was legally able to drive on other painkillers but now risks losing her licence on the school run
Before Alice Davy discovered medicinal cannabis, the mother-of-two struggled to get out of bed due to debilitating pain. Now, she risks losing her licence every time she drives her son to school.
“It’s always in the back of my head that I could go to jail or lose my licence, but I’m not scared of it like I originally was,” Davy, 33, tells Guardian Australia.
“Most of my 11-year-old son’s life I’ve been in bed sick. I wouldn’t go back to that for anything.”
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 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive component of cannabis, 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 is this issue that newly-elected Legalise Cannabis MPs are hoping to resolve this week via a bill set to be debated in Victoria’s parliament on Wednesday.
For Davy, going without medicinal cannabis is not an option. She was first prescribed it about four years ago for pain caused by her severe endometriosis, which has required 12 surgeries in a decade.
Since being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis 18 months ago, Davy has also found cannabis has reduced its symptoms, which include tremors and foot drop.
“Without it, I would constantly have a tremor and I wouldn’t get to get out of bed because I’d be in too much pain from my endo,” she says.
“Before I was taking cannabis I was maxed out on every painkiller you could think of. I have no idea how I was able to function, to be honest, but it was totally legal to drive with all of that in my system.”
Cannabis has two main chemical components: THC and cannabidiol, or CBD. The former is responsible for giving people the “high” feeling, while the latter has no intoxicating effects.
Both are used in different levels as treatments for various conditions, including neurological disorders such as epilepsy and multiple sclerosis and for cancer-related symptoms such as nausea and pain.
In several studies, THC has been shown to stay in test subjects’ saliva for anywhere between a few hours and several days after use. Among frequent users, THC is also commonly found in blood and urine samples for weeks after the initial effects have worn off.
Davy microdoses on CBD during the day and takes THC at night.
“I follow the strict instructions of my doctor and I’m not impaired in the morning. If I was, I wouldn’t get in the car,” she says.
Legalise Cannabis MP Rachel Payne says Davy is one of thousands of Victorians currently taking medical cannabis – as prescribed by their doctor – at risk of losing their license or being fined due to the state’s drug driving laws.
She says many people have been prescribed cannabis by their doctor but are “too scared” to take it because they need to drive.
“Whether that’s to work or to drop their kids at school, its impeding people from accessing a medicine that has much lower harm profile than other medications that are easily prescribed and aren’t tested in roadside testing,” Payne says.
Under the Road Safety Amendment (Medicinal Cannabis) bill, medicinal cannabis would be treated like other prescription medications when it comes to driving.
It amends the Road Safety Act (1986) to no longer make it an offence for a driver who is unimpaired to have detectable THC in their blood or oral fluid, provided they have a prescription and that they have taken their medication in accordance with that prescription.
The exemption does not apply to the driver of a motor vehicle who is impaired or incapable of having proper motor vehicle control.
“It should be up to police discretion – if they pull you over and they can see you’re impaired, you can be charged for it,” Payne says.
“But common sense should prevail – if a police officer can see that there is no issue with your driving ability, you have your script, they should wave you through.”
It is similar to laws in Tasmania which provide a medical defence for driving with the presence of THC in bodily fluids.
Daniel Andrews last week flagged that reforming the law as a priority for the Victorian government.
“There can be as many as 200,000 [Victorians] who are currently using medicinal cannabis with a script from a doctor and they cannot drive,” the premier said.
“That’s an issue that’s bedevilled us. We need to find a way through that.”
Andrews said he did not want people not to access medicinal cannabis because they were worried about breaking the law.
“I don’t want them to feel they can’t access that care because we don’t have [updated] drug-driving laws and we don’t have a test that can test for impairment,” he said.
“You’re either positive [to THC] or negative. It’s a binary thing when you may not be impaired at all. So we’re working through that.”
In 2021, the medicinal cannabis and safe driving working group commissioned three universities to conduct additional research into the issue.
Davy is involved in one of the studies at Swinburne University.
“In the driving simulator I wasn’t impaired. I was told by the researchers I was fine,” she says. “It honestly blows my mind we are still having this discussion.”
Source: The Guardian