Marijuana: A Trucking Problem Waiting To Happen

Recently I was discussing marijuana with an acquaintance of mine who is a regular user of illegal marijuana. When I say regular, I mean daily. This person can’t wait until later this year, when the government will make recreational marijuana legal for all people over the age of 19.

This conversation got me thinking about my beloved industry: transportation and trucking. How are the new laws going to affect trucking and in particular, truck drivers? This change in the law is planned to take effect sometime this year and I’m urging all my clients to review their drug and alcohol policies in light of this change in regulations.

Full disclosure, I’m no marijuana expert and I’m not a lawyer.

For many truck drivers, the change in law will not change anything. If you are one of the thousands of drivers that cross-border into the US, you need to know that the United States government believes that marijuana is an evil drug. They have not let up on their war on drugs. Because of this, marijuana continues to be one of the banned substances for all those operating safety-sensitive equipment. I do not foresee any change of philosophy or policy coming out of the United States government in this regard. Therefore, for all of you drivers crossing the US border, marijuana remains illegal and can be detected in your urine for up to 30 days.

If you are a Canada only driver, how will the new Canadian laws affect you? Recreational marijuana will be legal soon and authorities are scrambling now for ways to detect and determine if you are operating safety-sensitive equipment while under the influence.

Now I’m going to refer to the federal government law that is proposed but has not yet passed. Each province will also have to write new legislation and it will likely be very similar to what the federal government puts forth.

An interesting note is that following a legal roadside stop, law enforcement would be authorized to demand that a driver provide an oral fluid sample if they reasonably suspect that a driver has drugs in their body. A positive reading would assist in developing reasonable grounds that an offence has been committed. Once the officer has reasonable grounds to believe an offence has been committed, they could demand a drug evaluation by an ‘evaluating officer’ or a blood sample.

In the Canadian legislation, they are going to try to measure tetrahydrocannabinol which is often referred to as THC. THC is the chemical that gives you a euphoric high. There are three different categories of drug-impaired driving offenses:

1. Having at least two nanograms (ng) (one nanogram is one billionth of a gram) but less than five ng of THC per milliliter of blood within two hours of driving would be punishable by a fine. The maximum fine is up to $1,000.00. And yes, somehow they are going to take a sample of blood. This will likely take place somewhere other than at roadside. Please remember that the police are still trying to figure out how to deal with this change in the law.

2. Having five ng or more of THC per milliliter (ml) of blood within two hours of driving would be a hybrid offense. Hybrid offenses are offenses that can be prosecuted either by indictment (receiving a ticket/summons) which is the more serious cases or by summary conviction in the less serious cases. An indictable offence is a criminal offence which can be tried in court. A summary offence is a criminal act that is usually less serious than an indictable offence and is dealt with by “a notice to appear” in court.

3. The third category talks about the combination of THC and alcohol. If a person has a blood alcohol concentration of 50 milligrams (mg) of alcohol per 100 ml of blood, combined with a THC level greater than 2.5 ng per ml of blood within two hours of driving it would also be a hybrid offence.

Hybrid offenses would be punishable by mandatory penalties of $1,000.00 for the first offense. That is the minimum. The maximums are fines and jail time of up to 10 years in prison.

So how does all this affect a truck driver? I can tell you from my many years of working for a major trucking insurance company that they take a very dim view of all alcohol offenses. I believe that they will look at marijuana use in the same vein.

So what happens if you get caught using drugs and/or alcohol as a truck driver? You will most likely lose your employment. In some cases, your trucking company might be able to keep you on but at what insurance rate? The second question becomes, who will pay the increased insurance premium? Because trucking companies do not make a lot of money I find it hard to believe that a trucking company would pay an additional premium to keep one driver in place.

Why did I write this article? It is because I want trucking companies and truck drivers to start to think about the coming changes in the law. How will marijuana affect your business? As a company, do you already have a drug and alcohol policy in place that covers this type of impairment? Do you need to rewrite your drug and alcohol policy? You had better do it now so that it is in place for the change in the law.

As a driver are you going to risk using recreational marijuana when it could cost you your job? Remember drivers that all trucking insurance companies demand your drivers abstract or MVR. If impairment is going to show up on your abstract, it will likely cost you your job. And I’m not even talking about how this might affect your personal auto insurance and that of your whole family.

So I encourage all drivers to drive sober at all times. It will also be interesting to see the corresponding new laws that are written by the provinces. Only time will tell how this will also affect the trucking industry.

For more information you can read a backgrounder here:

Chris Harris

Chris Harris
Top Dawg, Safety Dawg Inc.
@safety_dawg (twitter)

About Chris Harris, Safety Dawg

Chris has been involved in trucking most of his adult life. He drove truck for and worked in various office/management positions for a major truck company. His last position of 5 years in the safety department where he was responsible for the recruiting of Owner Operators and their compliance. He joined a trucking insurance company in 2001 and has been in the insurance side of things until making Safety Dawg a full-time endeavour.