A CAMPAIGN group is calling for a review of the way drug driving is tackled and a return to pre-2015 legislation following a dramatic increase in the number of cannabis users convicted since the law was changed six years ago.
Figures obtained by Seed Our Future show that between 2015 and 2019 there was a 335% increase in the number of UK motorists successfully prosecuted for exceeding the legal Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) limit.
New drug driving thresholds came into force in England and Wales in March 2015 with the aim of stopping people getting behind the wheel of a vehicle while under the influence of a range of illegal and prescription drugs, including cannabis and cocaine.
An upper limit of 2mg (micrograms) of THC per litre of blood was set for cannabis, and the need removed for police to show evidence of driving impairment to gain a conviction.
Over 10,000 UK THC Convictions
Since the 2015 introduction of Section 5 (A) of the RTA, the number of convictions for THC present in blood has risen steadily from 2,346 in 2015 to 10,206 in 2019 – the most recent year Seed Our Future has been able to obtain figures for.
Yet according to the Seed Our Future report, Cannabis and Driving – The Facts, DVLA figures reveal that in 2015 there was only one DG60 endorsement for causing death by careless driving with a drug level above the legal limit, and in 2010 less than five.
At present the group – which works to raise public awareness about what it sees as the many unsubstantiated and unfounded laws and regulations surrounding the cannabis plant – says it has been unable to identify how many, if any, of those DG60 offences were related to the presence of THC only in the blood.
But the report’s author and Seed Our Future campaign founder, Guy Coxall, told BusinessCann: “The comparison between the number of convictions related to THC in the blood and DG60 endorsements would seem to indicate that these drivers were highly unlikely to have been involved in serious incidents.
“Since the Road Traffic Act was amended in 2015 and cannabis was removed from Section 4 – where evidence of driving impairment was needed – to Section 5 (A) where it is no longer required for a conviction on the basis that being above the legal 2mg THC limit is proof enough, new scientific data has emerged which shows that THC levels in blood has no connection to how well or badly a person drives.
“Furthermore, no such test exists to determine whether a driver has been impaired nor does forensic analysis showing above the 2mg limit have any evidential basis in relation to driving impairment or recent use, and is thus inadmissible.”
He added that since 2015 cannabis had been legalised for medicinal use not just in the UK, but under international law, with the plant now recognised as a medicine and less dangerous than other schedule 1 drugs listed under Section 5 (A) of the RTA.
Political & Financial Motives
“Approximately 10,000 private cannabis prescriptions have been written to date for a range of medical conditions and more than 1.4 million UK citizens now responsibly use cannabis as a medicine,” he explained.
“Many of these will be drivers who are sensible enough to know when they are fit to drive, just as those who are on medications like morphine and benzodiazepines know when they can drive responsibly.
“We at Seed Our Future believe cannabis was added to the list of seven commonly abused schedule 1 drugs without any foundation evidence of its meeting the criteria of a schedule 1 substance, and no scientific proof to justify the 2mg upper limit equating to driving impairment.
“We believe THC’s inclusion in Section 5 (A) is political and financial to increase conviction rates as opposed to science and safety. To date, there is no statistically significant or conclusive scientific evidence to confirm that cannabis use leads directly to road incidents.
“We believe Section 5(A) of the RTA is in direct conflict with human rights law following the UNOCD (United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime) 2009 confirmation that offences involving the possession, purchase or cultivation of illicit drugs for personal use should not be criminalised as this would be a contradiction of a person’s human rights.
“Seed Our Future is therefore calling for Cannabis (THC) to be put back into Section 4 of the RTA.”
The group also wants to see training rolled out to all police – many of whom Mr Coxall claims are still unaware cannabis-based medicine was legalised in November 2018.
Mr Coxall – who also heads up the UK-based HempTank – has yet to approach anyone in government with the report, but is hoping the newly launched Cannabis Industry Council (CIC) of which Seed Our Future is a member, may be able to open political doors.
Fighting For Justice
He said: “You may ask if there has been any point to doing this report? My answer is yes. I am passionate about the millions of people in this country who are constantly politically persecuted for utilising a non-toxic plant which helps their health and wellbeing and treats their conditions.
“As a group, we would just like to see the law changed to suit modern day life. There are so many legislative changes around the world regarding cannabis and we need to catch up, especially with our current economic standing. We could really do with a viable cannabis industry here in the UK.”
Mr Coxall admits cannabis is “unquestionably” a psychoactive substance with side effects that could impair driving ability. But these, he argues, are dependent on a range of factors.
Regular users develop a tolerance; other cannabinoids, especially CBD, counteract the psychoactive effects of THC; and side effects wane over time and have generally gone after two-four hours when smoked, although this is longer when orally ingested.
UK police currently use a roadside oral saliva drug testing kit, or ‘drugalsyer’, to check for both cannabis and cocaine in a person’s bloodstream. But the test can’t check for impairment – only traces of cocaine or cannabis in the bloodstream. It is possible to fail the test, even if you are not impaired in any way.
Mr Coxall said: “There is concern that most of those who have been convicted were in fact sober when driving. The fact that a law exists which leads to a criminal record, fines, a driving disqualification and creates unnecessary harm to individuals, their families, society and the UK economy, without any evidence of the defendant being impaired whilst driving and a risk to road safety, and who is in all likelihood practicing their inalienable human right to health by using a globally recognised essential medicine, is tantamount to medical and financial discrimination.”
Seed Our Future is currently supporting a woman suffering from fibromyalgia, pain from arthritis, irritable bowel syndrome and other health issues, in an appeal against her drug driving conviction.
She was found to have 20mg of THC in her bloodstream when stopped by police. At the time she was self-medicating on cannabis as she was unable to afford a private prescription, but has since obtained one after the cost dropped by 70% to £300 per month.
Coxall said: “In his summing up the judge sympathised with her position and suggested she challenge the law and the human rights. We are now awaiting that appeal to be heard and if needs be will seek progress to a higher court so we can set a precedent in law that would eventually protect millions of people.”
2015 Road Traffic Act Amendments
New regulations aimed at stopping people drug driving were introduced in England and Wales in March 2015.
Since then drivers have faced prosecution if they exceed limits set for the presence of a number of both illegal and prescription drugs, including cannabis and cocaine.
Section 5 (A) of the Road Traffic Act runs alongside existing law under which it is an offence to drive when impaired by any drug.
Section 5 (A) sets low levels for the illegal drugs with higher levels for the named prescription drugs, including morphine and methadone.
Those using prescription drugs within recommended amounts will not be penalised.
But police have the power to stop motorists and use a ‘drugalyser’ at the roadside to screen for cannabis and cocaine.
Officers are also able to test for these and other drugs, including ecstasy, LSD, ketamine and heroin at a police station, even if the driver passes the roadside check.
The legal limit of THC allowed in a driver’s bloodstream has been set at 2mg.
An average-sized joint usually contains around 120mg of THC. Realistically, it is possible to only have one puff of cannabis and be over the legal THC limit for driving.
How long you should wait before driving is open to debate as it depends on how much you have consumed.
If you smoke an average joint containing 120mg of THC, it should take around 12 hours before your blood level drops to the 2mg legal limit.
But there are many different methods of taking the drug, each of which may affect the body differently.
Even passive smoking could affect a driver and produce a positive drug test. A number of studies have documented this. One found that blood concentration levels of THC could rise to 7mg even after a short period of exposure to second hand cannabis in a non-ventilated environment.
This result could increase if the person inhaling the passive smoke was a non-smoker of cannabis.
The UK allows drivers to get behind the wheel of a car with a small amount of alcohol in their system, but operates a zero-tolerance approach when it comes to drugs, including cannabis. The legal limit of 2mg applies only to THC.
To show how low this is, the legal limit for alcohol is approximately 400,000 times greater than that for THC.
If caught over the legal drug drive limit, motorists face a minimum disqualification of 12 months, an unlimited fine, up to six months in prison and a criminal record that will show on their driving licence for 11 years.
Police use roadside oral saliva drug testing kits, otherwise known as a drugalsyer, to test for cocaine and cannabis. The test takes around three minutes.
It does not test for impairment, however, only for traces of cocaine and cannabis. You could fail the test even if you’re not impaired.