Kelly in the Media

Amendments pass Upper House allowing people to drive after using medical cannabis

Radio Adelaide

David Bevan: South Australia’s Upper House has voted to allow drivers who have a disability or a medical condition to legally use medical cannabis while behind the wheel the State Government thinks this is a really dopey idea but the Upper House has said ‘No, you should be allowed to consume medical cannabis while you’re driving a vehicle’ Peter Malinauskas is in the Upper House, he’s the Police Minister, and he thinks this is a dreadful idea what’s wrong with allowing drivers who have been told by a doctor ‘You can take medical cannabis’ to take the medical cannabis and drive a car?

Peter Malinauskas: Well this has all come about because I’ve bought into the Parliament a rework of the Act regarding drug driving. We’ve seen a spike in the number of people who are dying on our roads as a result of having drugs within their system including cannabis. It’s now getting to the point where more people are dying on our roads as a result of drug consumption than there are of drink driving this needs a response and hence the Government has opened up the act and making a number of changes, I think that Kelly Vincent’s amendments to allow for medical cannabis to be consumed and then get behind the wheel of the car is done with good intention Kelly is sincerely trying to look out for the interests of those people that might be using medical cannabis that’s inconsistent with the objective of road safety. Our objective here is to make sure that people who get behind the wheel of a car have their brain operating in such a way that doesn’t cause a risk to everyone else on the road and we think what we know from a range of research around the world that any cannabis consumption or any consumption of cannabis that results in THC being in your system impairs your ability to drive and therefore you shouldn’t be getting behind the wheel of the car and putting every other road user at risk, it’s just that simple. I was rather shocked – not at Kelly’s amendment or the fact that the Greens supported it but I was extremely surprised that the Liberal Party decided to support this.

David Bevan: your position here is the baseline not negotiable, you shouldn’t have anything in your system that could impair your driving of a vehicle, that’s it?

Peter Malinauskas:  Yeah well one of the tricks is that there is no roadside drug test that is able to test for the level of THC that is in the system what we test for is just the presence of it, that is just a technological reality when you get pulled over if you deliver a positive drug test it means it’s either in your system or not, it’s just that simple even though that’s been said all the research shows that even the smallest amounts of THC in peoples system does result in the overwhelming majority of peoples driving ability being impaired THC has psychiatric properties within it and that has an effect on the brain otherwise there’d be no point in using it to address medical issues, this drug has an impact our concern here is quite simply the road safety of everyone on the road not just the people who get behind the wheel of a car with THC in the system.

David Bevan: Right. And you’re quite clear on this point the authorities can’t decide what’s medicinal and what’s casual marijuana when they’re testing for somebody?

Peter Malinauskas: That’s right, when the police pull someone over it’s either in the system or not what Kelly’s amendment – with the support of the Liberal Party – allows for is someone to produce roadside a medical certificate that says ‘I’m taking medicinal cannabis and that’s why THC is in the system.’ The problem with that we don’t know whether or not the individual might have overdosed on their medicinal cannabis, they might have taken two to three times the amount the doctor has described which results in impairment or a less likely example nevertheless something that could occur is someone could have a prescription to use medicinal cannabis, they drive around with a certificate with in effect gives them an exemption from drug driving laws but then they then decide to consciously smoke marijuana in a way that is not consistent with their doctors’ instructions and then they think they can get away with this it’s absurd.

David Bevan: Well you’re not convincing some of our listeners. People are saying lot’s of medications say “avoid driving as the use of this medication can use cause drowsiness” now wouldn’t that just be the same?

Peter Malinauskas: Well no because there are lots of people who are dying on our roads. There were 4,474 people who tested positive over the last five years to having THC in their system. We know that 24% of all people who were drivers or riders who were killed on our roads last year tested positive to drugs this is putting people’s lives at risk the Government is entirely sympathetic to the cause of those people wanting to use medicinal cannabis to treat themselves for a condition – we are supportive of that we’re making efforts to allow for that.

David Bevan: You just don’t want them behind the wheel of a car?

Peter Malinauskas: That’s exactly right particularly if we know that the THC impairs the capacity to drive.

David Bevan: another person says ‘Are you quite sure there is THC in medicinal cannabis?’

Peter Malinauskas: Okay that’s a good point and this again demonstrates why this amendment is crazy, there is some medicinal cannabis that doesn’t result in THC production or THC going into the system, those people will be fine, the key element that we test for when we do the drug driving test is THC and the reason for that is because it’s THC which impairs brain function.

David Bevan: right so if you’re taking medicinal cannabis you need to be quite clear with your doctor who’s prescribing this ‘are you giving me the medicinal cannabis that’s got the active ingredient, THC, in it?’

Peter Malinauskas: Yes, we believe so particularly in the context of driving the amendment that was made in the Upper House last night with the Liberal Party’s support means that people will be able to have a certificate and then they’ll be carte blanche, they can have as much THC in their system no matter what and that means they could be completely unable to drive behind the wheel of a car safely but still do so because of this exemption and that puts people’s lives at risk, it’s crazy.

Caller Ken: medicinal cannabis is generally cannabidiol, at the moment you can drive on opiates, there’s no testing done for opiates or muscle relaxants, sleeping tablets

David Bevan: but isn’t that an argument to increase the testing regime, not to allow people with medicinal cannabis to drive?

Caller Ken: Well cannabidiol doesn’t affect, it hasn’t got the hallucinogenic effects that THC has and it’s not what they use in medicinal cannabis as far as I’m aware.

David Bevan: Mark Parnell how do you answer Peter Malinauskas’ concerns?

Mark Parnell: we had a robust debate about this, the one that everyone agreed on is that people who are adversely affected by drugs or alcohol are a danger on the roads, we don’t want them there on the roads and it’s a criminal offence to drive when you’re impaired the Minister’s right, there is no test for the amount of various drugs you’ve got in your system as opposed to say alcohol, alcohol we’ve got a number .05, .06  that’s been developed, with something like cannabis it’s present or not, what about people who might be suffering from a condition or illness and they need cannabis oil for pain relief or seizure control how does that work? And I think the answer is there are some people who if you’re taking massive quantities of something and it’s affecting your driving you shouldn’t be driving there will be other situations – and I think your listeners are onto this – where the level of impairment is either minimal or zero the question then arose what do you do with these people? Are they just nicked by the side of the road? But where the Minister is wrong. I think he used the words ‘carte blanche’ this isn’t a get out of jail free card. If someone tested for the presence of THC in their system then they’re done but there was an ability to go to court and explain the circumstances and unless there was evidence that the person was clearly impaired unless the police did what they do for heroin users or cocaine these are other drugs that can be tested for but aren’t that’s another question cocaine isn’t tested for, it’s a defence which means you’ve gotta convince the judge and say ‘here’s the certificate and it didn’t impair my driving and that’s my doctor’s opinion as well.’

David Bevan: Right. So you’re saying this change which got through the Upper House doesn’t give you the ability to carry around a piece of a paper and if you get pulled over ‘Oh, you’ve got THC in your system’ – ‘Oh, it’s okay I’ve got a get out of jail free card here’

Mark Parnell: that’s right.

David Bevan: you’d still be pinged fined or whatever, but you could under this change go to the court and if you wanted to make the effort you could argue your case, it just gives you a defence?

Mark Parnell: Well that’s right, I do accept that Peter’s trying as hard as he can with the Road Safety portfolio to make us all as safe as possible but we’ve gotta be realistic my view is that if the Government was really serious about keeping everyone off the road who was affected in any way we’d be testing for a lot more drugs but prescription medicine

David Bevan: we’re gonna run out of time thank you for your view.
Back to Peter Malinauskas
David Bevan: Coming back to Peter Malinauskas. He says this change to the law doesn’t give you a get out of jail free card, it just gives you a defence, you’d still be caught, you’d still be penalised but you’d be able to argue against that penalty, now what’s wrong with that?

Peter Malinauskas: the reality is as a result of this amendment getting up and if it’s successful in the Lower House, you can hit me with a brick, there are going to be a lot of people out there who are not using cannabis for the purposes of medicinal need that will be running around trying to get themselves a doctor’s certificate to be able to use it.

David Bevan: hang on, what you’re there saying is that you’ll have people who will find a corrupt doctor.

Peter Malinauskas: What I’m saying our objective when it comes to road safety policy is to reduce risk, it’s all about making sure that we’re reducing the risk of all road users to people getting behind the wheel of the car impaired. The result of this amendment is that we add risk into the system which is exactly or entirely counterproductive to what the object of opening this act up is we’re sympathetic to people who want to use cannabis for medicinal purposes…

David Bevan: just don’t drive

Peter Malinauskas: we just don’t think they should be getting behind the wheel of the car.

David Bevan: thank you.