Cannabis Drug Driving, an issue for those taking Sativex.

CANNABIS AND THE EFFECT OF DRUG DRIVING LAWS ON PRESCRIBED DRUGS- SATIVEX

A further issue arose with cannabis namely that people suffering with Multiple Sclerosis are often prescribed Sativex which contains cannabis.   

The Government refused to set a limit which would mean those taking Sativex would fall below the limit. This despite the advice from the BMA that they should be exempt. Drivers taking Sativex of course have the defence that it has been prescribed but two issues arise from that.  Firstly that the law will force people with a serious illness to go through the trauma of being arrested and charged and then having to provide evidence of their medical condition and prescription to avoid a conviction.

It is unlikely that the police will listen to this prior to charge and these innocent patients will have to prove their innocence in court with all of the stress that a court appearance will bring especially for those suffering from MS. The second issue with this was raised by a Doctor during the consultation period that is the situation whereby people suffering with MS often take cannabis to relieve their symptoms and do so illegally. One doctor argued in a similar vein that “the lack of widespread availability of Sativex leads to many patients having to break the law to obtain illegal cannabis to control their symptoms. As a clinician I am often asked my opinion on this from patients seeking information on the safest way to use it. Commonly they are patients who cannot tolerate opioids or Non-Steriodal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDS) and for whom the few other options are ineffective. So many patients are prepared to break the law in order to achieve some symptom control, which the NHS can’t or won’t.”

 

In the Public Bill Committee on the Bill for this Act the Minister said as follows:

“Obviously it would cause the public some concern if that flexibility was so great that they felt the powers were not being used even-handedly. However, the police will be aware of the statutory defence of taking a specified controlled drug in accordance with medical advice. I would imagine that if a driver was able to demonstrate there and then that it was regular medication, the police might decide that it was not in anyone’s interests to take the matter any further. The CPS’s code has a requirement that prosecutors ‘should swiftly stop cases … where the public interest clearly does not require a prosecution’.

“I would hope that in a clear-cut case of, for example, an elderly constituent on regular medication, common sense would prevail straight away.”

In my experience as a Drug Driving Solicitor I am not confident that the police or indeed the prosecution will simply accept this and discontinue any action against the driver without it having to go to court. A common response is “we’ll leave it up to the court to decide”

If this is an issue that affects you call us on 01623 600645 for free and honest advice.

Drug Driving, why is Amphetamine not included?

Amongst the drugs that the new Drug Driving laws has set limits for there is one notable absence. Amphetamine is a commonly abused drug and yet does not feature on the list. This is curious because a number of other prescription drugs are on the list so it seems strange that this is missed off.

There was a specific issue with amphetamine. It was accepted by the government that this drug was used as a treatment for ADHD. The expert evidence was that drivers who suffer from ADHD drive better whilst under the influence of prescribed amphetamine. For this reason the government postponed placing amphetamine on the list whilst they carried out further studies. This is likely to affect very few prescription users of amphetamine. The majority of ADHD sufferers are under 17 although there are also adults who suffer from this it. The inclusion of a limit would have affected very few drivers. 

Amphetamine is not the most common treatment for ADHD in the UK. The most common is methylphenidate (such as Ritalin), a substance chemically similar to amphetamine, but is less liable to misuse.

The Crime survey for England and Wales reported that those that reported driving under the influence of illegal drugs at least once or twice in the last 12 months 30% reported using amphetamine in the same time period. In killed drivers amphetamine was the third most prevalent detected drug in European drug use surveys.

Four European countries have a limit for amphetamine; Netherlands, France, Sweden and Norway. The recommendations from the government’s drug driving expert panel was that a threshold in whole blood for amphetamine be set at 600 µg/L

The government took the view that it was better to get the ball rolling with the less problematic drugs and add others later on. Whether this is the correct approach remains to be seen.

If you have been charged or investigated for drug driving issues call us on 01623 600645 for a free initial advice.