Criminal Law

By Rachael Scott


The problem of legalising medicinal cannabis use

Come November, the legalisation of marijuana use for medical purposes will come into effect in Canberra. This is a ground-breaking feat, and has the potential to benefit many ill (some terminally) people. However, use of this particular substance may be controversial, therefore it is vital that patients are aware of the potential criminal law consequences that may flow.

Australia’s tough roadside drug testing laws are a growing concern, and many question how they are going to co-exist with those needing to use marijuana for medicinal purposes. Roadside drug testing has increased significantly over the last 12 months, particularly in the ACT and NSW. What’s more, many drivers charged insist that it had been days or weeks since they had taken the drug.

Unlike fast acting drugs, such as heroin or cocaine, the psychoactive ingredient of marijuana, THC, is fat-soluble rather than water soluble, and therefore takes far longer for traces of the drug to leave the user’s system. To complicate matters, there is no precise estimate of time it takes before a user would not be subject to a drug driving charge.

According to Drug and Alcohol Research and Training Australia (DARTA), it can take anywhere between 2 days and 11 weeks for traces of the drug to leave urine, 2 days for traces to be removed from the user’s blood, 1 – 10 days for traces to be removed from saliva, and up to 90 days for it to be removed from hair and nails. Whilst it is not clear where each person would fit on the spectrum, it is clear that the more frequently you use the drug, the longer it takes to leave your system. The fact that it can take up to 10 days for all traces of the drug to be cleared from a person’s saliva is particularly concerning, due to the fact that this is what is used in road side drug tests.

Legalising medicinal cannabis use without complimentary changes to drug driving laws will risk leaving Canberra’s patients in a hopelessly unfair position.