A panel discusses marijuana issues. From left: Harold Sumerford, J&M Tank Lines; Greer Woodruff, JB Hunt; Todd Simo, HireRight; and Panelists: Paul Enos: Nevada Trucking Association.
 - Photo by Deborah Lockridge

A panel discusses marijuana issues. From left: Harold Sumerford, J&M Tank Lines; Greer Woodruff, JB Hunt; Todd Simo, HireRight; and Panelists: Paul Enos: Nevada Trucking Association.

Photo by Deborah Lockridge

The American Trucking Associations Oct. 8 endorsed a new set of policies aimed at helping the industry continue to safely operate in an environment where more states are liberalizing laws related to the recreational use of marijuana.

Announced during the ATA’s annual Management Conference and Exhibition in San Diego, the new platform bolsters its existing impaired driving policies to deal specifically with marijuana, now that more than 93 million Americans live where the drug is legal for recreational use.

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Read HDT's Series, Trucking Under the Influence

Developed by ATA’s Controlled Substances and Driver Health and Wellness Working Group, the new policy and recommendations:

  • Call for the government to maintain the right of employers to test for marijuana if they determine that use could adversely affect safety;
  • Support a lifting of the federal restrictions on marijuana research and call for more research into marijuana’s impact on impairment, especially in conjunction with other substances;
  • Back the development of oral fluid testing and impairment standards; and
  • Call for the creation of a marijuana victim’s compensation fund – paid for by dispensaries, cultivators and manufacturers.

This is in addition to ATA’s existing policies calling for the government to allow alternative drug testing methods, creation of a national database of positive drug and alcohol test results, and strong anti-impaired driving laws.
“This policy allows us to, while recognizing that the modern world is changing, advocate for strong, safety-oriented policies backed by sound science and data,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear in a press release.

A panel discussion held the day before delved into some of the issues the industry is trying to address with this new policy.

Focusing on safety

“Safety is the argument that we need to focus on,” said Paul Enos, CEO of the Nevada Trucking Association, as companies that want to maintain drug-free workplaces face challenges in areas such as racial and socio-economic discrimination and denying people medical treatment.

Predicting that the number of states legalizing marijuana is only going to increase, Enos said, “We want to protect the employer’s right to have a drug-free workplace, to test their employees, to limit their liability. But we want to make sure as we get more data on this that we can change, too.”

However, he said, “We desperately need more research.”

Todd Simo, chief medical officer and managing director of transportation at HireRight, said “the data is all over the place. The reality is drugs are different in and of themselves. Alcohol has an impairment, we know that. When you sober up you’re no longer impaired. If you’re an opiate user, when you first start on it you’re impaired, but as you continue, the impairment goes away.

"When you look at marijuana as a substance emerging in the occupational medicine world, when people smoke pot, they are impaired, and they compensate – the alcoholics drive through the red lights, but the marijuana a smoker stops at the green lights,” he said, prompting laughter from the audience. “They’re so aware they’re messed up.”

The problem, Simo said, is that studies show the impairment effects of marijuana last longer than the intoxication window. Someone may not feel high any more, but 24 hours after consuming cannabis, he or she is still impaired in tasks involving spatial perception, multiple object tracking, and quick decision-making.

“Now what job did I just describe that takes all three of those tasks?” he asked. “Your drivers, people working in distribution centers with forklifts. So you have to look at it from a safety perspective.”

Nevada passed a law prohibiting businesses from denying employment to somebody who failed a drug test if they tested positive for marijuana. But the law has exceptions for fire fighters, police offices, anyone driving a truck or motor vehicle, and a catchall exception, at the employer’s discretion, for other workers if they believe it could impact safety, Enos explained.

Hireright’s Simo said the safety exemption is pretty obvious for DOT-regulated truck drivers, because federal law is clear in its prohibition of drivers using a Schedule 1 controlled substance, which is how marijuana is currently classified.

But other workers could be considered to have safety-sensitive jobs, as well, he said. The forklift operator in the warehouse, for instance, or the maintenance technician working around potentially hazardous equipment.

“You have to craft a policy for your non-regulated workforce,” he said. “Craft a policy that defines who’s safety sensitive and who isn’t, and what does your accommodation process look like.” Just because a state law says you have to consider accommodation doesn’t mean you have to accommodate a person's use of legal recreational or medical marijuana; it just means you have to consider it, he said, similarly to Americans with Disabilities claims.

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