COOKSTOWN, Ont. — Patti Satok wasn’t surprised when she failed her pre-employment drug test. She was more surprised when the trucking company that had offered her a driving job suddenly reconsidered the position it had proffered.
Satok is one of a growing number of Canadians who have been issued a prescription for medical marijuana. As a professional driver, she was injured on the job in 2005 and since then has dealt with debilitating pain. She recently applied for a domestic trucking job, passed the road test and went through orientation. She was prepared to hit the road for her new employer this week when the positive drug test threw her future into question.
The company that offered her the job told her it needed some time to figure out how the positive drug test affects her employability. With the company’s own policy manual in hand, Satok said she’s pretty sure it doesn’t.
“They have a policy and I have it right here with me,” she said in an exclusive interview with Truck News. “It says the legal use of prescription drugs is permitted on the job, if it doesn’t impair an individual’s ability to effectively perform essential job functions or endanger the safety of others.”
That same policy indicates drivers may not “possess, distribute, sell or be under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs,” but in Satok’s case, marijuana is not considered by Health Canada to be an illegal substance and she doesn’t take it while on the job. She said she ingests cannabis in the form of honey at night, while off-duty, when chronic pain prevents her from sleeping. She figures a well-rested driver who consumed medical marijuana long before a driving shift begins is safer than one who is sleep-deprived and in pain while on the job. She has 13 years of experience as a professional driver and feels her ability to do the job isn’t compromised by her consumption of marijuana for pain-relief.
And even though her prospective new employer hasn’t implicitly retracted its job offer, its stalling has prompted her to speak out on behalf of other truck drivers who hold prescriptions for medical marijuana.
“This is an issue I know has come up with other drivers,” she said. “I know other drivers are in the same position as me and they don’t know what to do.”
Satok’s problems began in 2005 when a 1,500-lb skid fell on top of her, causing significant injuries. She finished her shift and later had trouble getting support from WSIB since she didn’t immediately file a claim.
“It was the trucking industry that crippled me up,” Satok, who is a two-time national women’s boxing champ said. “I’ve been beaten up worse in the trucking industry than I ever was beaten up in the ring. I don’t know what to do.”
When Satok was issued the prescription, she said her doctor told her she’d be able to continue driving.
“I’m legal in the eyes of the police,” she said. She also pointed out many professional drivers travel the roads while taking prescription painkillers such as morphine and oxycontin without repercussions.
Asked if she would ever consider taking medical marijuana during a driving shift, Satok said “God, no. I use it at nighttime, after I’m off-duty. If I have pain that’s keeping me awake, then I would. I use it in honey form. I have medical marijuana honey. I don’t sit around puffing doobies and that’s the misconception.”
Still, Satok’s funny honey sandwiches have her prospective new employer feeling more than a little squeamish.
Even though the carrier that offered Satok a job is still considering its options – and likely feverishly consulting with its lawyers – Satok said she wants this issue addressed by industry, whether or not she is turned away. She contended clarity will benefit carriers and drivers alike.
“I don’t want to be ashamed of this,” she said. “I feel like I’m doing something bad, and I’m not. I need to get the message out and if I have to be the face of it, I’m willing to at this point.”
If Satok is denied the job she was originally offered, she thinks it will become a human rights discrimination issue. She’s prepared to pursue it as such, though she admitted she doesn’t have the resources to employ a lawyer. For now, she’s hoping the company she was eager to join will still bring her on. But even then, she wants to see a dialogue about the implications of Canada’s medical marijuana policy started and for trucking companies to update their policies to reflect this new reality.
Truck News will be following this case and will have legal opinions and expert analysis in the days ahead. Stay tuned.
James Menzies is editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 15 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies. All posts by James Menzies