Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Those pesky unintended consequences again...


It turns out that re-scheduling marijuana to a lower drug classification has left the trucking industry with a big problem and few options to solve it.

The trucking industry is raising concerns about President Joe Biden downgrading marijuana to a lower level of drug classification — especially how the move could threaten highway safety.

The American Trucking Associations’ and Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s questions about reclassifying cannabis from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug include how it would affect carriers’ ability to test drivers for the substance.

“Absent an explicit allowance for continued employer marijuana testing of safety-sensitive workers, this change may have considerable negative consequences for highway safety and safety-sensitive industries,” the ATA said in a letter to three federal department heads.

There's more at the link.

It really is a big problem.  Marijuana can affect one's reflexes, concentration, etc. just as badly as alcohol, particularly when it comes to synthetic marijuana or a high-strength varietal.  Cops I speak to tell me it's already a very large problem in big cities, where the majority of drug users are to be found, and even in smaller towns it's making its presence felt.

I don't know how they're going to handle testing and disciplinary requirements.  If marijuana is officially no longer considered as dangerous, can drivers be fired for using it?  They (or their lawyers) could argue that if using it is not against the law, the drivers cannot be punished for using it.  And how does one measure the actual level of intoxication?  The alcohol content of blood can be measured, providing an objective result that can be used in court if necessary, but I'm not aware of any similar measurement that can quantify the "level of marijuana" one's smoked or eaten.

It's all very well to "liberalize" marijuana legislation to cater to society's changing views on its use, but if it adds (or makes worse) more danger on the roads, that's anything but OK.  It's yet another worry when one's behind the wheel . . .



August said...

I'd like to get a hold of one of these workplace injury policies and see if the insurers don't have the current drug testing regime explicitly in their terms. It seems to me testing will likely last for quite a while longer, because the insurers won't want the increased risk. At the very least, they'd likely use a positive test as a start to a legal case to not pay out.

tweell said...

Alcohol is legal, but having more than a drink will get you busted for drunk driving. Under the influence doesn't have to be alcohol. It may be difficult to prove other than with subjective road tests, but right now that's what we have.

Divemedic said...

Yes, there are plenty of tests that can tell you the level of THC in someone's blood. The issue to this point is that ANY amount has been illegal, so there has been no reason to set limits for intoxication.
If marijuana is rescheduled, then there will have to be a limit set, beyond which you are impaired.
I will say this, however: I have been an EMT/Paramedic/RN for over 35 years. I have been to literally thousands of auto accidents, and hundreds or perhaps even thousands of them were caused by at least one of the drivers being impaired by alcohol. I can honestly say that I only know of two that were caused by a driver that was under the influence of marijuana.

Anonymous said...

I suggest that the FDA change its classification to that of alcohol, since this is something that should have happened in 2018 when Epidiolex was approved to treat rare forms of epilepsy thereby making it a useful medication.

Anonymous said...

One difficulty with the ability to quantify cannabinoid levels in serum, is that the results are/can be hours (if not days)(if not weeks) in being reported. I am unaware of any roadside cannabinoid equivalent to the "breathalyzer", which may complicate "no stoned driving" policies.

That being said, I can readily see workplace policies (spelled "insurance") prohibiting detectible levels of cannibinoids in serum. As another commenter above said, that might develop into a "not gonna pay: you breached the terms of the policy" situation. This might be both workplace injury, as well as liability.

Anonymous said...

The blood alcohol content test provides a repeatable standard, which makes a properly crafted law more likely and hopefully less future reversals. We need less contentious legislation, not more lawyers. There's no technology at present for establishing the degree of marijuana intoxication in a defendant that will withstand a legal challenge as to it's accuracy. The administration just saddled federal law enforcement with an unenforceable law. It's the "too fast for conditions" theory. It's all subjective and open to interpretation. This is indiscriminate political pandering that will cause hardship for more than the trucking industry. And for no discernable political advantage by November. A wasteful gesture that reeks of desperation, a confident but prudent candidate would have saved it for the fall.
rick m

Merlin said...

If you don't mind, I'd like to present the other side of the coin.

Having been under random drug testing as a condition of employment a few times in my life, here's my take on this: I have NEVER had an issue with testing to see if I am PRESENTLY intoxicated. It is my employer's right to expect me to appear sober, and able to work. However, what I've always had an issue with is testing to see if I've BEEN intoxicated in the last few days (the last MONTH foe MJ). What I did NOT at work, NOT on the clock is, to put it simply, is NONE of my employer's business. Until they start PAYING me 24/7, it's not their business what I'm doing while I'm NOT getting paid.

Now, yes, they will need to come up with a test to verify if you're presently intoxicated, instead of the testing for metabolites as they presently do. This does not change the question of if you're intoxicated NOW, but it will help get their noses out of was I intoxicated two days ago.

Just my $0.02

Anonymous said...

I'm a truck driver, and what matters are what the DOT and FMCSA regulations state. According to those agencies, marijuana is still verboten, legal or not. Quite the pity, since I've heard good things about the efficacy of CBD oil for pain, but if I get some that hasn't been properly quality controlled, my career is done.

lpdbw said...

Back when I was a Libertarian (big-L), this was a frequent topic of discussion. Truck drivers and airline pilots were used as examples.

Even 20 years ago, we had simulators that could test the attentiveness, awareness, and cognition of drivers and pilots. They could be tested before they start a shift, and at convenient points during a workday.

So if they were impaired for any reason at all, they could be sent home. If they passed, the employer had a verifiable certification of ability to operate a vehicle.

Frequently mentioned were forms of impairment beyond illegal drugs. Insomnia, accidental overdose or interaction of prescription meds, hangovers, strokes, depression, fatigue, emotional trauma due to family strife, just to name some examples.

Captain Tightpants said...

To give some rebuttal/clarification to some of the comments. THC CAN be measured in the blood, and all states have a defined "level" of presumed impairment - this is how DWI/DUI laws can apply to driving while stoned, and similar levels are established for other illegal and many legal drugs.

However, yes, it takes time - it is a blood draw, and then a lab analysis.

And, unlike testing for alcohol, which can be done through a breath sample, it requires an invasive blood draw to get your test sample. Which, if you're also applying standards similar to criminal law, also requires a separate sample from the same draw to be maintained for independent testing should the accused require.

And, FWIW Divemedic, when I was on the job probably a quarter of my DUI arrests were for marijuana or other drugs...

All this comes to the point - yes, this puts a burden on industry. And, yes, as several said, while field sobriety testing by law enforcement can demonstrate *current* impairment, there are NO "real time" lab grade proofs for how much of that (if any) is caused by marijuana.

Anonymous said...

I started driving a truck in 1969 when I was sixteen years old. I retired 3 years ago. The road today is already more dangerous than it ever was. I’ve driven for companies and I’ve been an owner operator. I can tell you right now, if I own a truck no pothead loser is getting anywhere near one of my rigs…..Period. There will be accidents and people will die. The guys at the scale houses will put these people out of service so fast it’ll make their heads spin. Trucking takes every bit of concentration you have, or you will die! These DC clowns don’t know that. And as for Biden, he’s never spent 10 minutes in a semi. Personally, when I’m on the road, I stay as far away from trucks as I can. It’s gonna get even uglier out there for a while

Old NFO said...

Sigh... Yet one more reason to be aware of EVERYTHING when driving.

Murder Kitten said...

About 2 years ago, I came across a car that had crashed into a guardrail next to the highway. Front end of the car was completely wrecked, but the driver was out walking around, entirely uninjured, and reeked of pot. I got the keys out of the car, got him to sit down in the back seat, and called 911 while I was checking him out. The dude was so high that he kept asking for the keys back and arguing that the car was fine because it was a rental. That dude's guardian angel really cared about his job.

bravokilo said...

There were 42,000 traffic deaths in the US in 2022.
That number could be only a few tens of deaths if we mandated five-point safety harnesses and helmets for all motorists.
Of course we won't do that. No one cares about the deaths, just the effect is has on their wallet.
No, that's not cynical. You can find countless examples; for instance, Obama added 5 million slaves to the global total after his Libyan adventure (according to the UN). No one cared then, no one cares now (but it's a fun fact in a reparations debate).
I'd bet the non-truckers in the trucking industry are mostly dead weight, and as the movie said, they've gotta protect their phoney-baloney jobs.
>This debate topic with add months to my paycheck!

boron said...

Everyone is looking to test for the "drug"; how about testing the driver for their ability to drive - each time a driver steps into the car; we have that ability today; look at the computer games.
Oh, no! That would require that old farts like me might not be able to drive; not drug impaired; just impaired.

Anonymous said...

Yes, cannabis constituents cause impairment. But unlike alcohol, which is a global toxin, there are receptors not just in our brains but all over our bodies which affect not just mood,aren't just hallucinogens, but are involved in regulating our immune systems. This is a hot area of drug development research not just by Chinese and cartel chemists trying to spoof existing tests.

Another problem is that unlike alcohol, some active and many inactive metabolites persist in the body for days or even weeks, and alcohol metabolism is pretty simple.

Couple that with what some comments have noted: while even BAC doesn't have a completely predictable effect on performance, it's a lot more predictable than the combined interactions of multiple drugs metabolizing at different rates, building up in body fat stores with unpredictable release rates and poorly quantifiable relationships beween blood levels of even one of them and impaired performance behind the wheel.
Do cannabinoids effect judgement? You bet. But predictably linking THC blood levels to that is a huge can of worms.

My mother, may she rest in peace, had severe anxieties which as her dementia progressed tortured her and became unmanageable. She got a California "cannabis letter" in California from her physician, and CBD preparations with a touch of THC helped for several years, but she developed tolerance (which BTW goes with the potential to be addictive. Before we went down this route, I tried one of the legal CBD preparations to see what the effect might be on her; it had noticeable and somewhat prolonged unpleasant cognitive effects. It did help with my arthritic pain, but it wasn't worth it to me.

There's another thing which I strongly suspect is entering into this. Ethyl alcohol is not a patentable drug. There are patentable synthetic and semisynthetic cannabinoids. The herbal medicine community has long expected that cannabis rescheduling is more likely to depend on Pharma anticipating huge profits and using its influence accordingly than on anything else.

Putting on my tinfoil hat, I can think of other lousy things various of the regime's puppetmasters would like to do to the USA that rescheduling cannabis is likely to facilitate.

Mind your own business said...

In recent years, I've noticed a distinct lowering of professional truck drivers' abilities and competency. I suspect that the pandemic years drew a lot of new drivers into the profession because of the much higher pay. And many of them aren't that good at piloting those big 18-wheelers, making sudden lane changes, frequently running onto the rumble warning strips, being unaware of the length of their rigs, and going over the speed limits.

Maybe the ones that survive will get better. Meanwhile, I treat all 18-wheelers like muslim suicide bombers on the roads. I stay as far away from them as I can manage.

Anonymous said...

You could make a reflex-testing app cops could use on the roadside to test reflexes. Then it doesn't matter why you are impaired, you are objectively measured as too slow.

Gerry said...

+1 Anon 5:54

We had a local vehicular manslaughter case were that became a major issue.
A driver made an illegal pass on a two lane road and hit three motorcyclists. She killed two and the third lost a leg.

Prosecution said she was under the influence of marijuana, she did test positive. They claimed that what was caused her to make the pass into oncoming traffic. The defense countered where was the data the showed that? Even the federal DOT expert could not give any hard numbers that related THC levels to altered performance.

She walked on the manslaughter and driving under the influence charges.
She was convicted in another case of attempting to smuggle pot into the jail.

A real winner.

Anonymous said...

Being a recently retired former nuclear worker, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that I expect the NRC to continue to have employers enforce a zero tolerance level for marijuana use in their Fitness For Duty programs.

Ed Bonderenka said...

In my earlier incarnation, I smoked and drove.
Like most who did, I drove slower and more carefully out of paranoia.
We mock slow driving traffic impediments as presumably stoned.
I in no way am presenting this as an argument for driving stoned.

Peteforester said...

Biden's buying votes and keeping with the Donk motto: "Keep 'em stoned, stupid, and entertained."

My town used to be a Western version of Mayberry. Now, aside from the roadside taco stands, the first thing a visitor sees when entering town are several large billboards advertising the local pot shops. I'm surprised they don't say "We accept EBT."

MN Steel said...

On the flip side, a mandated 8" spike in the middle of the steering wheel would see a spike in deaths near-term, but eventually many less deaths over the long haul.

Kind of like safety laws in reverse, the future drivers would be much more attentive...

audeojude said...

It's simple... just do it like alcohol. Use fines and jail time.. under the influence when operating a vehicle and you make a mistake the hammer comes down on you. go to work high and cant function get fired for being under the influence.

I know it isn't a popular stance but I think pretty much everything but fentanyl should be legalized and sold over the counter in drugstores for low prices. Fentanyl seems more like a potential weapon of mass destruction to me. The potential harm of someone taking some of that and distributing it in a air burst makes me shudder. I think the cost to us as a nation both financially and as a society by the war on drugs is far higher than the damage to us of a small percentage of people OD'ing or being druggies. The amount of people damaged on a daily basis by the gangs and violence surrounding the current drug culture is way higher than the damage done directly to the users that choose to take drugs.

Legalize it, tax it at normal taxation rates and lose all the cost of the massive war on drugs apparatus and gain a further tax base. At normal tax rates, sold in pharmacies the quality will be good so the damage/danger from unknown adulterants goes away and it removes the profit margin that makes all the illegal stuff work. I know the horrible damage drugs do to families, we have people in mine and my wife's families impacted by it. Niece on mine and a couple nephews on my wife's. The drugs being illegal made no difference at all on their usage over the years. It actually just compounded the damage to their lives that they had already accrued just from using the drugs. Try getting a decent job after a drug conviction. Now you owe the state money for getting caught using and the whole trial process, and good luck getting a job ever that will pay enough to live on afterward.

I feel horrible for every life lost to overdoses and the damage to families from having someone doing drugs, being violent, stealing etc... and the emotional damage in dealing with that situation.

But the cost to us as a society of the seizure laws, reduced civil rights over the years, penalizing the people that do crawl out of drug use legal for the rest of their lives, gang violence supported by the profits in illegal drugs, cost of massive federal agencies and local agencies only involved in the war on drugs. it is a cost we can't bear to pay as a society yet we do, year after year. I know of many people that have nothing to do with drugs that had money seized after a traffic stop, or flying. Money taken because if you have that much cash on you it must be drug money. of what I know of the lowest amount was around 500 dollars. I can't even count the number of times I have gone off to buy something for 500 to 8000 dollars in cash, from house hold appliances to cars to boats and a few times receiving similar amounts from the sale of something.

When seizure happens you end up months or years trying to prove a negative that it isn't drug money and then even if you prove it. You normally don't get the money back or assets if it was more than money they seized. It's a entire legalized racket that shuffles the money from local enforcement to federal agencies with kickbacks from the federal agencies back to the local department that seized it that leaves it very hard to get it returned because all sides claim you have to get it from the other entities. Eternal round robin of it not my responsibility from all the agencies.

Anonymous said...

The same arguments were used in Canada, and the world didn't end when pot was legalized. Normal now is cheek swabs to show recent use, and some companies just mandate a zero tolerance condition of employment. Also, the same companies often lower alcohol to 0.02%, stating that as a condition of employment as well. Why put up with it? Pay in those industries is significantly higher.