Doctors are calling on the government to tighten legislation relating to driving under the influence of drugs, stating the increased availability of cannabis will lead to more traffic accidents.

As the cannabis reform looks set to be passed by parliament next week, Doctors for Road Safety (D4RS) drew on recent studies to highlight that cannabis is associated with a rise in traffic related deaths. 

In a statement published on Saturday, D4RS pointed to Colorado and Washington in the US where traffic deaths involving drivers who tested positive for cannabis had doubled since the drug was legalised.

Cannabis reform, which has drawn controversy, will allow people to carry up to seven grams of the substance for personal use without fear of prosecution and see cannabis users able to grow up to four plants in their own homes.

However, the NGO pointed out that cannabis results in impaired judgement, poor motor coordination and reaction time, and studies have found a direct relationship between the level of THC in the blood and impaired driving ability.

According to current Maltese law, driving licences shall not be issued to or renewed for applicants or drivers who are dependent on psychotropic substances or who regularly abuse them, whatever category of licence is requested.

However, if the law goes through, it is not clear whether cannabis will still qualify as being a drug of abuse, and whether users be allowed to drive according to this law.

Combining alcohol with cannabis results in an additive effect with regards to impairing driving coordination, the NGO added. However, there is currently no mention in Maltese law of any increase in penalty with regards to co-ingestion of drugs with alcohol, wrote D4RS.

In Australia and many EU countries, the THC concentration used to define a cannabis-related driving offence has been set between 1 and 2 ng/ml of THC in blood(ng/ml), whilst this is set at 5ng/ml in the US.

No such THC concentrations currently exist in Maltese law and there is no difference in the Maltese law between cannabis-impaired driving and a cannabis-positive driver.

D4RS also called for increased training and presence of enforcement officers on Maltese roads, together with the procurement of roadside tests for drug testing where needed.

With regards to roadside testing for drug intoxication, most developed countries use an oral fluid test, later followed by a formal blood test for THC concentration if positive, they pointed out.

No such oral fluid test, known as Approved Drug Screening Equipment, is currently available to police officers in Malta for rapid testing of drugs including cannabis at the roadside, they said.

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