Reefer Madness: How will pot legalization affect trucking?

Updated Jan 24, 2013

MarijuanaLet’s talk about pot for minute, shall we?

Once the dust settled after election night last November, and you set about considering the political landscape before you on the morning after, I’m sure you noted that along with all the other stuff that happened, two states – Colorado and Washington – legalized marijuana for recreational use.

You can bet that more than a few potential drivers and technicians would love to get stoned after a hard day at the office and will consider working for a company that doesn’t care if they do a plus.

That’s right: You can now – legally – smoke weed in those two states. And you don’t even have to dream up some BS medical excuse to do so. If you want to get baked, pig out on Little Debbie cakes and watch a Chevy Chase Caddyshack/Vacation marathon on TV, it is now perfectly legal to do so there.

More importantly, this wasn’t a move by some hippie state legislature or some activist liberal judge. It was a straight-up Yes or No vote on the ballot with the clear majority of voters saying they approve of legal marijuana use. The people have spoken. And that’s a hard tide to turn back in a democracy.

Now, if you’re my Mother, who equates smoking pot with dropping acid or injecting high-quality Afghan heroin directly into your veins, this is horrifying news. A little less hysterical reaction can be found in the views of my very conservative colleague, Tom Jackson, who writes for CCJ’s sister magazine, Equipment World: LEGAL POT A BAD DEAL

Clearly, Tom isn’t a fan of this trend. And he’s not alone: There are a lot of older – and conservative – readers out there for both our magazines who aren’t exactly turning cartwheels at the news that weed is now legal in two states.

As a country, we’ve been tap-dancing around this issue since the late ‘60s, at least. And the purpose of this blog today is not to argue whether or not pot is worse for you than Jim Beam whiskey or a few beers. At this point, I think that discussion is moot. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the good people of Colorado and Washington have already decided that issue for the rest of us.

Which means, that in all likelihood, this is an issue that the trucking industry is going to have to face head-on before too much longer. And even if you personally equate legally smoking pot with the downfall of Western Civilization, it looks like you’re going to have to deal with it if you want to keep on making money until the day comes when the whole thing finally falls completely apart and comes crashing down around our heads.

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So: the trucking industry has got to start talking about this. Because it is coming. It’s already hard as hell to find drivers and technicians. And you can bet that more than a few potential drivers and technicians would love to get stoned after a hard day at the office and will consider working for a company that doesn’t care if they do a plus.

We don’t know what the Federal government is going to do now that two states have decided to legalize pot. But anyone who thinks Colorado and Washington didn’t bust the pot dam wide open last November is deluding himself. In fact, those Commie Bastards at Rolling Stone magazine think another seven states could potentially legalize pot in the mid-term elections next year: THE NEXT SEVEN STATES TO LEGALIZE POT.  And they’d know, wouldn’t they?

California – which is already a headache for fleets and truckers to operate in — has been leading the way on the legalization front for decades now. And they can’t be happy to discover that Washington and Colorado have upstaged them with full-blown legalization. So I’d say the odds are good it will go legal in ’14. And it’s not just the liberal, west coast states. Consider a legalization bill was on the ballot in trucker-friendly Arkansas, of all places, but failed to pass – although the vote was surprisingly – or alarmingly – close, depending on your point of view; with 49 percent of voters saying “Yea,” and 51 percent saying “Nay.” Who’s to say what will happen the next time legal weed appears on the ballot there – particularly if legalization proves to be a non-event in Colorado and Washington.

At the moment, pot is still illegal on the Federal level. And the DOT is a federal agency. They’ve already ruled that airline pilots can’t smoke recreational marijuana. And they’re currently holding the same line for truck drivers:  POT STILL ILLEGAL FOR TRUCKERS. But is that an outdated reaction? Will that policy remain in place if more states vote for legalization?

If the DOT caves on driver use, then what? Safety concerns will have to be considered. No one will ever suggest that it’s OK to get baked and take a tractor-trailer down the highway anymore than it’s OK to do so while sipping on a gin and tonic. But can drivers smoke in the sleeper when they’re off-duty in states where it’s legal to get stoned? Probably not, given the current prohibition of alcohol in commercial vehicles. How do you test for marijuana consumption? Is there a time limit between the last joint smoked and the on-duty time the next day as there is with alcohol?

And not all drivers are going to be happy about legalization, either. They’ve already got to deal with a whole host of bad drivers during the day. Stoned drivers are already on the roads to be sure. Will legalization bring more of them out?

And what about your office workers and non-driving employees? Can you continue to pre-screen for marijuana use as an employment condition? Or will that be a privacy violation in states where pot is legal? And what about the fact that many fleets have operations scattered all over the country? Are you now going to have to tailor your company policies’ to meet drug laws in different states? And how do deal with an employee who gets legally stoned in Aspen and then drug-tested in Nashville?

Given the unique business characteristics faced by the trucking industry, those questions – and many others – are going to have to be addressed soon.

Again: I think this is coming. Even if only half of the states Rolling Stone thinks will vote on legalization approve measures next year, we’re still looking at something like seven or eight states where marijuana consumption will be legal. And if you’re a national fleet, it’s a sure bet you’re running vehicles in those states. And who knows how many states will see the issue on the ballot in ’16?

The trucking industry has to start addressing these questions and asking some hard questions now. Because this is one issue I just don’t see issue going away.

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