As the number of medical cannabis patients continues to grow, it is important to keep informed on the latest guidance when driving with a prescription.
What does the law say about driving with a medical cannabis prescription? What risks do drivers face? Do drivers have a responsibility to inform the DVLA? What should patients do if stopped by the police? This post aims to answer these questions and offer some clarity to patients.
UK law currently states that it is illegal to drive if you are unfit to do so following the consumption of legal or illegal drugs. It is not an offence for patients with prescription medicines, such as medical cannabis, to drive as long as they aren’t impaired and follow the advice of their prescribing doctor. Guidance from the DVLA states that patients should be “free from any medication effects that would impair driving”. Recent research suggests that impairment from medical cannabis lasts for around 2-4 hours when smoked and longer when orally ingested. However, the decision as to whether they can drive safely is down to the individual judgement of the driver.
As with any other medicine, doctors prescribing medical cannabis should give their patients advice when considering driving with their prescription and the effects this may have.
If a driver is deemed to be too impaired to drive and is convicted of a drug driving offence they could face:
- A minimum 1 year driving ban
- Unlimited fine
- Up to 6 months in prison
- A criminal record
Should I tell the DVLA about my prescription?
Under UK law, drivers must inform the DVLA if they develop a ‘notifiable’ medical condition or disability that affects their ability to drive safely. Of the notifiable conditions, the only one commonly treated with medical cannabis is epilepsy. Therefore, only patients with medical cannabis prescriptions to treat epilepsy have a mandatory duty to inform the DVLA.
Drivers must also surrender their licence to the DVLA if their doctor tells them to stop driving for 3 months or more, or if their medical condition affects their ability to drive safely for this same time period.
Although the DVLA guidance is far from clear and only specifies that medical cannabis patients suffering from epilepsy have a mandatory duty to notify the DVLA, doctors do recommend that drivers should still make the agency aware of their prescription to avoid the risk of losing their licence in the case of a collision, and to comply with the law.
What should I do if I get stopped by the police?
The law currently states that drivers stopped by the police will have to undertake a roadside drug test which screens for the presence of cocaine and cannabis. If this returns a positive result, the individual will then have to take a urine or blood test at a police station, which is enough to secure a conviction. These tests have been criticised as they test for presence rather than impairment, meaning anyone who has consumed cannabis in the past few days may be over the limit, putting them at risk of prosecution.
Despite this, patients who are on a legal medical cannabis prescription and are following the advice of their doctor have a medical statutory defence, providing they are not impaired.
To alleviate the stress of being pulled over, the Seed Our Future Campaign has published a ‘Statement of Fact’ document that drivers can provide to the police which sets out the statutory defence. Drivers with medical cannabis prescriptions are advised to print this out and keep this in their car. If pulled over by the police, drivers should present the document to the officer, alongside a copy of their prescription and ask the officer to politely carry out their due diligence. Providing patients supply this evidence of a legal prescription, there is no reason for police to escalate things further by taking a swab or blood test.
Take Home Messages
The key points for drivers with medical cannabis prescriptions are as follows:
- Patients should not drive if impaired
- Drivers only have a mandatory duty to inform the DVLA of their prescription if it is used to treat epilepsy. With that said, doctors recommend that all drivers with a prescription should notify the agency to avoid losing their licence should they get into a collision
- Drivers with medical cannabis prescriptions have a medical statutory defence, the ‘Statement of Fact’ document outlines this and should be provided to the police along a copy of the prescription, if a driver is pulled over