When it comes to cannabis and driving, Australia currently has a zero-tolerance policy for THC. This is because THC is responsible for the psychoactive and intoxicating effects of cannabis and can affect your judgement. CBD is non-intoxicating and therefore is ok to drive on.
Can you drive on cannabis?
Most medical cannabis contains either THC or CBD. Currently, roadside breath tests only test for THC. CBD oil is therefore safe to consume before driving, assuming it does not contain any traces of THC.
Depending on the source, some CBD products, may contain small or trace amounts of THC while others do not.
How can you tell if your CBD contains THC?
When you are prescribed CBD oil, you can confirm whether that product contains THC based on the certificate of analysis (CoA). This is a list of active ingredients that your cannabis medicine contains.
You can usually see any high amounts of active ingredients on the product label. Alternatively, you can find them within the consumer medicine information (CMI) that comes with your medicine.
What CBD products are safe for cannabis and driving?
Some products are safe to drive on, such as CBD Isolate in oil or a broad spectrum CBD oil. These do not contain THC. Black market CBD oil products have no quality standards and may therefore contain THC (or other chemicals).
How does cannabis affect driving?
Cannabis can induce sleepiness and fatigue. As a result, cannabis may reduce a driver’s reaction time and impair their attention capacity. Consequently, this increases the risk of having an accident while driving.
There are substantial differences between the effects of THC and CBD when considering cannabis and driving. THC is responsible for most of the negative side effects of cannabis.
According to a study by Swinburne University, an estimated 35% of drivers on Australian roads who were severely injured or killed have tested positive to one or more psychoactive substances, including THC.
How does THC affect driving?
THC causes driving impairment due to its effects on the nervous system.
A study in Drug and Alcohol Dependence was conducted to help determine the limits for driving under the influence of cannabis. The results showed that THC significantly affects your perception, impulses and cognition.
A study in The American Journal on Addicitons found that THC impaired drivers’ motor skills and judgement, and drivers under the influence were far more likely to be involved in fatal accidents.
Similarly a literature review from the National Academies of Sciences found that using cannabis and driving (and especially THC) increases the likelihood of having a car accident.
How Does CBD affect driving?
CBD in low doses is likely safe when driving, as it does not produce any intoxicating effects. Unlike THC, the TGA highlights CBD has a fairly low risk profile, as it is actually stimulating in low doses.
A study in Psychopharmacology found that up to 200mg of CBD had no affect on motor skills. This study was cited by the World Health Organisation (WHO), which continued to state that CBD is not responsible for any public health issues at this current time.
In order to draw meaningful conclusions, we require more research on high doses of CBD and driving. The TGA further illustrates that higher doses of CBD can cause sleepiness. Consequently, high doses of CBD oil could impact your driving
Medical cannabis and driving laws in Australia
Medical cannabis and driving differs depending on whether it contains THC or only CBD.
CBD cannabis and driving in Australia
It is legal to drive with CBD in your system as long as the medicine does not contain THC. Some CBD oil products also contains THC, such as full spectrum CBD oil). Others CBD products do not, such as CBD Isolate and broad spectrum CBD oil.
THC cannabis and driving in Australia
All Australian jurisdictions all have a zero tolerance approach to THC. This means it is illegal to drive with medicinal cannabis in your system that contains THC. Consequently, if you test positive for THC, you will likely lose your license and face criminal charges.
There are no exemptions for users of cannabis for medical or therapeutic purposes.
How long after having THC can you drive?
Peak impairment from THC is between two and four hours. Based on research, THC may be detectable in your saliva for up to 72 hours. Most studies however, indicate that the bulk of THC is only present in your system for up to 24 hours.
Edible cannabis will show THC in your system for longer. Also, frequent cannabis users tend to have detectable THC for longer periods of time.
A study in Psychopharmacology conducted at the Lambert Initiative for Cannabinoid Therapeutics found that most participants showed no signs of THC after vaporising flower after 3 hours after use.
In any case, you should consult your doctor regarding how long to wait after consuming THC.
Drugs, cannabis and driving regulations across Australia
In all states, driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol is a serious crime. When it comes to roadside testing, four drugs are detectable through a saliva swab:
Each state has slight differences and penalties for drug driving.
In NSW, it is illegal to drive under the influence of alcohol or any drug. The NSW Police Force has authority to undertake random drug testing to verify substance use while driving.
According to the Road Transport Act 2013, driving under the influence of THC is a legal offence. This includes any THC found in your saliva, urine or blood. If a swab tests positive for THC, the driver must undertake a second swab test at either a mobile drug testing bus or a police station.
The police also prohibit you from driving for 24 hours while your sample undergoes laboratory testing.
For a 1st time offender:
- The maximum fine is $1,100
- A license suspension for a period of 3 to 6 months
For a second or subsequent offender:
- The maximum fine is $2,200 (this refers to offences within 5 years of the first offence)
- A license suspension for a period of 6 to 12 months
License suspensions are mandatory. Furthermore, it is an offence under NSW state law to refuse a drug test.
In the case of fatal road accidents, the maximum penalty for the offender is 10 years. However, a judge may increase this period to 14 years in cases where the offence includes consumption of multiple drugs.
In October 2020, the Victoria State Government announced upcoming changes to laws around driving and medical cannabis. The changes allow patients who consume medical cannabis the same rights as patients on other medication. The current Victorian law specifically discriminates against medicinal cannabis and driving differently from any other prescribed medication.
In Victoria, penalties depend on whether it is a first time offence. First time offenders:
- Must attend court
- Receive a fine (up to 12 penalty units)
- Receive a license or learners permit suspension for at least 12 months
- Must complete an intensive Drink and Drug Driver Behaviour Change Program
- Must have zero BAC condition for 3 years
Second time offenders:
- Receive a fine of up to 120 penalty units or 12 months jail
- Have their license or learner’s permit cancelled for at least 2 years
- Result in a fine of up to 180 penalty units or 18 months jail
- Result in a loss of license or learners permit for at least 2 years
In Queensland, roadside drug testing is common. Also, drivers cannot refuse a test and a positive reading leads to a 24 hour license suspension. As a result, you may also have to undergo a blood test. Additionally, police will lay charges on you if your blood test returns positive. Furthermore, they will suspend your license until you attend court and permission to drive is granted or the case is withdrawn.
Drivers with no pending offences retain a valid driving license until a court decision or a case withdrawal. Conversely, drivers with pending driving offences will have their license suspended pending a court decision.
Potential penalties include:
- Driving license suspension for a minimum of 1 month up to 9 months
- Fine up to $1,868
- Up to 3 months in prison
For a first time offender, the court may:
- Suspend you from driving up to a period of 6 months
- Fine the offender up to $3,736
- Force jail time of up to 9 months
For repeat offenders (second or subsequent charge within a 5 year time frame), the court may:
- Suspend you from driving up to a period of 2 years
- Fine the offender up to $8,007
- Imprison you for a duration as it sees fit
Refusal to have a drug test can lead to:
- A fine for $5,338
- A maximum of 6 months jail
In South Australia, drug driving requires an explanation notice or otherwise results in prosecution. With expiation notices, an offender either pays the fine or appeals in court.
Both result in 4 demerit points. If you choose to pay the fine, your suspension will be:
- 3 months, if you are a first time offender
- 12 months, if you are a second time offender (within 5 years of the first offence)
For further offences, the suspension period depends on the time frame and occurrence. The same applies for prosecution by court. First time offenders receive a license suspension for a minimum period of 6 months. Furthermore, if you hold a full licence, Service SA reissues you a probationary licence for a period of time.
In WA, there is some distinction between drug impairment versus the presence of drugs in your saliva. This means you either test positive for ‘prescribed illicit drugs in oral fluid’ or ‘driving under the influence.’
If you test positive for drugs in your saliva, the penalty for a first time offender is:
- A maximum fine of $500
- 3 double demerit points
Subsequent offences result in:
- A fine between $500 and $1,000
- Suspension of driver’s license for a minimum of 6 months.
‘Driving under the influence of drugs’ is more serious and the penalty for a first time offender is:
- A fine between $900 and $2,500
- License suspension for a minimum of 10 months
Further offences call for stricter penalties. However, to charge a person under this offence, police must assess the offender and/or have blood tests as evidence.
Tasmania has drug driving laws similar to most other states. However, Tasmanian laws focus more closely on the presence of drugs in a person’s system, rather than impairment.
First time offenders receive a licence suspension from three to 12 months.
Subsequent offences receive a licence suspension from six to 24 months.
In the Northern Territory, driving under the influence is similar to other states. However, first time offenders do not receive a license suspension.
First time offenders:
- Face a maximum of $400 in fines
- Receive 5 penalty units
- Face the possibility of a maximum of 3 months jail
A second time offender will:
- Face a license suspension of 3 months,
- Receive a $400 fine
- Receive 7.5 penalty units
- Face the possibility of 6 months jail
These figures continue to increase for subsequent offences.
Final thoughts on cannabis and driving in Australia
In conclusion, driving with THC is illegal in all states and territories within Australia. Whilst there is consistency in testing, the penalties vary in each state. You should always be cautious when consuming CBD prior to driving. If you obtain CBD legally, from a chemist, the risks are far lower. As always, consult your doctor before taking any medication and operating machinery, including driving and medical cannabis.