NSW medicinal weed users want to drive

·3-min read

The same medication that helped Maggie Gentle get her life back is also stopping her from living it.

The 26-year-old from rural Curlwaa on the NSW-Victoria border wants to find work, but the medicinal cannabis she's used for years stops her from driving.

"I still have my driver's licence, however I have signed a waiver that I can't use my medication and drive," Ms Gentle told AAP.

"I'm disadvantaged because of a medication that I have been prescribed," she said.

A NSW inquiry is on Thursday examining a bill that would let people like Ms Gentle get on with their lives while continuing to take their medicine.

The bill, introduced by Greens MP Cate Faehrmann, would provide a defence against drug driving charges for medicinal cannabis users, similar to existing allowances for people prescribed valium or methadone.

"Medicinal cannabis is far safer than morphine and other opioids on and off the road, but it's only medicinal cannabis patients who test positive who face life-destroying drug driving charges," Ms Faehrmann says.

Drug driving law reform advocate David Heilpern says legislation needs an update.

"When they brought these laws forward, there was no medicinal cannabis," he told AAP.

Tests have also became more sensitive, adding to the unanticipated unfairness of the law, Mr Heilpern said.

He left his 22-year career as a magistrate in 2020 after presiding over numerous cases where prescribed medicinal cannabis users faced losing their driver's licence, placing their careers and contact with family in jeopardy.

"It just seemed to me appallingly unfair," he said.

Australians have increasingly been prescribed medicinal cannabis since it was legalised in 2016 - almost 123,000 last year according to the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

That was more than double the prescriptions given in 2020.

Ms Gentle was ahead of the trend, being prescribed cannabis in 2019 after suggestions from several specialist doctors.

It came at the end of a long road beginning when she was diagnosed with Graves' disease.

After having her thyroid removed, she spent weeks in hospital due to allergic reactions to the prescribed hormone replacements.

She was eventually able to leave hospital, but the severe nausea caused by the allergy followed her home, and didn't subside until she found the right medication.

"The only thing that got me through, and has worked wonders for me, is cannabis," Ms Gentle told AAP.

"It was obvious in my hospital notes because I was going to hospital once every week for IV fluids and antibiotics and that stopped when I started cannabis."

But until laws change, Ms Gentle is being held back from pursuing the career in psychology she has been studying for, unable to drive to complete required placements.

She's also forced to rely on family for travel due to a lack of public transport in her rural area.

Ms Faehrmann says her bill is a chance to solve those problems for Ms Gentle and others in a similar situation.

"Medicinal cannabis patients shouldn't be forced to choose between driving and holding down a job and the only medicine that helps them," she said.

The government will not be supporting the bill.

"Medicinal cannabis is not comparable to other drugs, in part due to its widespread use and availability for non-medicinal purposes," reads the government's submission - one of 105 to the inquiry.

"There is no reliable way to distinguish or prove whether the source of THC is illicit or prescribed," the government submitted.

The bill - and its proposed changes to laws around crime and drugs - will likely depend on support from the opposition Labor party preparing to contest an election in March.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting