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WA parliamentary committee pushes for medicinal cannabis, drug driving reforms


Key points:

  • The chair of the committee says WA could be the “most sensible and advanced state” in the country if the recommendations of the report are adopted
  • The report makes 16 recommendations, including changes to drug driving laws
  • Doctors say the “zero-tolerance” approach from mining companies is hurting FIFO workers.

A West Australian parliamentary report has recommended the elimination of barriers to accessing medicinal cannabis, including letting people with a prescription drive a car while the drug is in their system.

The Select Committee on Cannabis and Hemp has made 16 recommendations to the state government, ranging from changing drug driving laws to doubling the amount doctors are allowed to prescribe to patients.

Legalise Cannabis Party member and committee chair Brain Walker said change was overdue and that WA Premier Mark McGowan should take action.

“What I’d like to say to the premier and to the state government is that we have an option for enhancing the wellness of the population of the state,” he said.

“There’s a significant proportion who will benefit from cannabis and who are not currently able to enjoy the benefits of that medication.

“Examine this and please commence the process to making legislative change.”

The ABC has contacted Mr McGowan’s office for comment.

Dr Walker said the ACT had decriminalised all drugs and noted that there was a medical defence for drug driving in Tasmania.

He said Victoria was likely to “follow suit” with a law permitting motorists to drive with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in their system, provided they were not impaired.

“If WA put all our recommendations into law then we would probably be the most sensible and advanced state in Australia,” he said.

Dr Walker said the report represented an opportunity to address decades of stigma.

“The reason that cannabis was banned in the first place is absolutely unfactual,” he said.

“It was banned because of propaganda and politics — [not because of a] single medicinal fact.

“The report goes a long way to showing that this is actually safe, it’s sensible.

“It is in fact a healthy, healing herb which can do wonderful things for wellness.”

The McGowan government has two months to formally respond to the report’s findings.

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Drug driving laws ‘outdated’

The report outlined the main barriers to accessing medicinal cannabis as doctors having too much paperwork to do, a reluctance to prescribe, the cost of the drug, outdated driving laws, and workplace drug-testing regimes.

It said criminal sanctions for those caught driving with THC caused harm because it encouraged doctor hesitancy and restricted the movements of those using medicinal cannabis.

“The mere presence of THC in a person’s bodily fluid has no correlation to their current level of impairment,” the report stated.

“Patients accessing medicinal cannabis usually use it as a final option for serious health conditions.

“[They] are more reliant upon car travel than the general population and face significant disadvantages from not having access to transport.”

The report pointed to existing exemptions for other prescribed drugs, such as sedatives and opioids.

In a submission to the report WA Police stressed that anyone impaired by THC should not be on the roads. (Supplied: Select Committee into Cannabis and Hemp)

Dr Walker said driving laws were the main barrier he identified for medicinal cannabis users and urged immediate change.

“It’s plain wrong — if your job depends upon you being able to drive and you’ve got a chronic pain, you can’t take the THC because you could possibly lose your job,” he said.

“So people make the decision, ‘Do I live in pain? Or do I work?'”

The report recommended removing the requirement for doctors to get “authorisation” to prescribe the drug.

It also recommended raising the daily prescribing limit from 40 milligrams to at least 100mg, on the basis that “the current limit poses an unnecessary restraint to access of medicinal cannabis”.

A “compassionate access scheme” was also recommended due to the cost of the drug.


FIFO workers miss out

The select committee also heard that “zero-tolerance” workplace testing for THC created a barrier to access and also punished workers who had legitimately sourced the drug.

It heard many mining companies did not distinguish between medicinal cannabis and recreational use.

Business groups raised concerns with the committee that the drug could compromise worker safety on mine sites.

The report said anyone impaired should not engage in work, but recommended the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety provide information to companies on how THC does and does not affect impairment.

It said medicinal cannabis should be treated in the same manner as other potentially impairing prescription drugs.

Dunsborough GP Matty Moore has been an authorised prescriber of medicinal cannabis for years and says he sees “several patients a week” worried about having cannabis in their system at the workplace.

“The no tolerance is just not fair, because they can be using their medicine as prescribed, and we know that THC doesn’t impair beyond five hours, but still the policies are, if they find it in your bloodstream, if they find it in your urine, you potentially lose your job,” he said.

“[Mining companies are] using the old drug and alcohol screens randomly and even patients that use very little THC, appropriately and as prescribed, are getting their jobs taken out from under them.

“I’d say a few patients a week are not able to use THC [because of this].”

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