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WA medicinal cannabis regulations to be reviewed amid call for ‘immediate action’

The West Australian government looks set to make it easier for more doctors to prescribe medicinal cannabis but has stopped short of supporting calls for changes to drug-driving laws.

In March a parliamentary report into medicinal cannabis issues in WA made 16 recommendations, including changing laws to provide a defence for medicinal cannabis use, provided the driver was not impaired.

The official response was tabled in parliament on Tuesday and supported 11 of the 16 recommendations, but only “noted” the push for drug-driving reform. 

Instead, the government will establish a working group to consider reasonable amendments to the road traffic act.

A state government spokeswoman said the working group would avoid any knee-jerk changes to driving laws.

“We want to be very clear that this government would never support any amendment which would allow a person to drive while impaired,” she said.

“It is the government’s strongly held position that nobody should be driving impaired.

"However, other Australian jurisdictions are progressing amendments to enable a defense for people using medicinal cannabis, as prescribed, to drive while unimpaired and Tasmania already has these provisions in place."

Medicinal cannabis advocates have long stressed that the presence of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in a person’s bloodstream does not necessarily mean the person is impaired, but there has been debate as to how to determine whether someone is impaired.

Legalise Cannabis MP Brian Walker chaired the parliamentary committee that recommended changes to drug-driving laws and said the government’s response was a step in the right direction.

“The politically correct response is that I’m happy that they are taking this seriously,” he said.

“As a medical practitioner, as well as a politician, I’m sad they are not taking more immediate action.”

Dr Walker said it was frustrating medicinal cannabis was being treated differently from alcohol.

“I’m distressed that people are allowed to drive with alcohol in their systems, which definitively affects people, and people think it’s OK up to 0.05, but they are not prepared to address the issue of how do you detect impairment in other cases,” he said.

Dr Walker said he was pleased the government was broadly supportive of the recommendations surrounding medicinal cannabis.

Medicinal cannabis use is increasing across the nation and the use of Medical Marijuana in Workplaces

The government has promised to remove the need for doctors to be specially authorised to prescribe schedule eight cannabis because real-time prescription monitoring is now available in WA and the use of the drug is easier to track.

Prescriptions issued interstate will also be able to be honoured in WA and the government will review daily THC prescribing limits and investigate the feasibility of a medicinal cannabis advisory service.

Calls for changes to medicinal cannabis regulations in WA come as the mining industry grapples with how to regulate increasing use among its workforce.

The government says it supports an update to the guidance it provides employers following the committee’s finding that medicinal users struggle to keep jobs on mine sites due to impairment protocols.

The Chamber of Minerals and Energy told the inquiry there was no clear consensus about how much THC indicated impairment, but the zero-tolerance approach had been broadly adopted.

The government said the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety would work to update a document called Alcohol and Other Drugs in the Workplace Guidance Note.

The document – published in 2008 – said cannabis users exhibited confusion, clumsiness and slow reaction times.

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