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News  May 9, 2014 12:01AM

Medical marijuana and trucking: A legal minefield for carriers



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

James Menzies

James Menzies is executive editor of Truck News and Truck West magazines and equipment editor of Motortruck Fleet Executive. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 13 years and holds a CDL.
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11 Comments » for Medical marijuana and trucking: A legal minefield for carriers
  1. Dennis Osmanagic says:

    hello
    touchy subject, but what is going to happen: in case of accident god forbid someone dies they check record and blood work on spot who is going to be charged, do not take me wrong I am not judging any one and do have understanding how hard is to do any other profession after trucking let not forget we get employed by company, they are the one responsible too if they close door lot of people will loose jobs, again hard to resolute this problem but I belive that someone can give help to people like this finding jobs or in any different way…..

  2. R. Elliott says:

    Hello, I’m still a little skeptical about the “Legal” let alone “Illegal” reference made to the use of marijuana while operating commercial vehicles let alone any job function really. I have over 20 years operating commercial vehicles and I once was in the Flying J in Montreal and while I was standing near a pay phone I notice a rather unkempt scruffy looking driver who was using the pay phone and while I walked by all I could smell was the reek of cannabis emanating from where he was standing. I kept an eye on him to see where he would go. This individual then went to the cashier purchased a cash advance ans some cigarettes then proceeded tot he parking lot where I followed him only to see him get in a truck with a set of empty flat deck B trains and drive off. I did get the company name and it was out of province from B.C. So obviously somehow some individuals still escape the drug” testing or,the “under the influence” part of the regulation as stated in the Ontario D.O.T. regulations. Don’t get me wrong however regarding the use of “Legal Marijuana” I’m not very informed (as most may not be) regarding the use of such, but most of us will of course jump to the conclusion that it’s the same as Ms. Satok refers to as “smoking doobies” misconception. It’s also a known and researched fact that while under the influence of the usual method of marijuana use “inhaling through smoking it” is that it does impair ones reflexes sufficiently so to adversely affect one’s ability to operate safely any vehicle albeit a commercial vehicle or any motorized piece of machinery even a forklift etc. and I’m quite sure in many warehouses and factories there are those who also operate such machinery under the influence of marijuana.I’m sorry I’m against the use of marijuana for pretty much any workplace environment especially when it’s currently an illegal drug (medical use excluded) and especially when it potentially affects others safety, as well as others have to endure the smell of same similar to tobacco. I’m also and ex-smoker and have tried marijuana in my past and it wasn’t for me. I’ve never been under the influence of any substance while operating a commercial vehicle.
    Also I have a family member who was exposed to illegal drugs at an early age and currently is addicted to and suffers the results and complications of a mental illness in part from the use of marijuana. So there lies my opinion of the use of marijuana in the workplace especially the illegal use. I think Canada for workplace pre-employment there should be mandatory drug testing especially in the operation of any motorized vehicles whether commercially or in factories and warehouses. Good luck to Ms. Satok.

  3. hardrive says:

    I to was severely injured on the job: Workers Compensation did everything humanely possible to deny me “Timely Medical Diagnose” – Timely Medical Treatment, I believe it goes like this….No diagnose = No claim costs:
    Nothing could be worse than to be injured and denied diagnosis, treatment:
    I went to emergency multiple times in severe pain, requesting investigation for spinal injury;

    I was denied any investigation, even though I offered to pay for MRI myself, unfortunately, I knew nothing about the medical system.

    I called workers compensation in severe pain requesting help to obtain MRI and was told “You can’t get a MRI, ONLY a specialist can order this test” (Unknown to me, Mayfair diagnostics in Calgary allows ANYONE, to buy a MRI within, 24 to 48 Hrs:)
    Results:
    Ramrodded at the speed of light through physiotherapy program were my multiple spinal pain complaints were ignored; I was ramrodded back to work in severe pain of T’3s, denied a specialists appointment requested on my behalf from physician; ( 2 yrs later my broken back was diagnosed with a simple x-ray )

    I was by then in severe chronic pain, 5 ortho surgeons / 3 neurosurgeons over a 3 yr period wouldn’t perform a physical examination or order MRI / CT scan / etc.

    I was then returned to work on handfuls of medicine, morphine / oxycontin / amitriptyline / baclofen / ibuprofen / when I almost had a head-on I knew it was time to walk away;

    (I could never live with myself if I killed someone or someones child etc.

    2 yrs later my 2nd spinal injury was diagnosed;

    My fight with workers compensation is far from over, EVERYTHING possible has been done to deny me treatment for my injuries; 5 yrs ago, I started in the WCB appeals process; 20 appeals later still no resolution; In 2011 my physician filed for a medical review panel; WCB denied that also:

    In Canada, whenever there is significant injury, with insurance interests; Workers Comp: Everything possible is done to contain costs;
    Its Medical – Legal -Insurance – Fraud – Racketeering;

  4. Mark Tilley says:

    My limited understanding is that the active ingredient for pain relief is not the same as the active ingredient for getting high, and that pharmaceutical companies are endeavouring to produce marijuana that has the former and not the latter.

    Which seems to make it obvious that drug tests should be testing for the former ingredient and not the latter too.

    It would also be good if this aspect of the problem was addressed whenever reporting on it and it also highlights the need for users to be responsible for procuring marijuana with only the pharmacologically necessary ingredient.

    At least it’s good to see that a responsible delivery method is used by the driver (honey vs. smoking).

  5. Jim says:

    Marijuana is a drug, no matter in which form, no matter what the circumstances, weather it has been approved by a doctor or not. It causes an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and a deacreased reaction time. The affect can last for hours. Even though you may be able to manage its effects by limiting its use at certain times one can never be sure that a driver will start his/her shift and choose to manage their pain by consuming the drug while on duty or just before duty. The drug test is an indicator that the driver has used a drug and has access to it.

    These are the reasons why this drug, along with other pain killers are not going to be approved for use while driving a commercial vehicle.

  6. Greg says:

    POT is POT and if your using it for recreation or for medical reasons you do not need to be on the road in a class 8 truck after using it. And if your in that much pain without it do you really need to be driving a truck ( not the easiest job in the world )

  7. Lori says:

    Wow you people really need to pull your heads out of your butts and do some research… Medicinal Marajuana is a weed not a synthetic drug manufactured by pharmaceutical companies. There has never been a documented death caused by an overdose of POT EVER! There has however been many many documented cases of overdoses or Morphine, Oxy and Alcohol. Two of which doctors are prescribing on a daily basis and people are taking these drugs and working completely out of it. Why don’t companies pick on these people and leave the poor MM users alone. I wish this lady much luck with her trucking endeavors.

  8. Jim says:

    How could they cross the border as it is suppose to be illegal to transport medical pot across the border from CANADA to USA or back even with a Dr’s certificate?

    • James says:

      I agree with you Jim, while at the same time I would hate to see this gale go without work.
      I own a small trucking company. If you are driving a Class 8 vehicle fully loaded or not you need to drive for those around you and not just your self. (Drive for 5)
      If your reaction time has been slowed by a drug (medical or not) and someone else close to you losses control now you do not have the reaction time you need on a normal mind and body function, This being the result of a preventable accident and possibly causing a fatality to not only them or yourself but to the other people around you that could have been avoided under normal operation.

      For those who disagree, PUT YOU, YOUR FAMILY OR LOVED ONES IN THIS POSOTION AND THEN THINK ABOUT IT.
      IT IS NOT SAFE!

  9. Justin Whitehall says:

    Marihuana is the safest therapeutic substance known to man. 40.000 Canadian’s depend on this miracle plant everyday to treat a extremely wide variety of medical conditions including cancer , epilepsy and chronic pain . This poor women is stuck choosing between suffering or being employed ? That is absolutely unacceptable . For all the people who have negative comment’s I regret to say that a large number of you will one day change your opinion on this harmless plant when one of your loved ones finds relief from medical marijuana .

  10. Shawn says:

    What an interesting conversation, well to quote Patti “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.”
    I have been using medical marijuana ever since the pain medications (oxcys, percs, T3’s, baclofyn caused me to be so violently ill that I sent to the hospital with internal bleeding, I required a blood transfusion (4 pints). It took me 2 years before I was even considered for my prescription, I am a 41 year old male with shoulder and neck injuries that will not go away or be repaired. I would prefer not to have to take any medication, but now after 5 years of taking legal prescriptions; my insides are so messed up that I am required take medications to compensate for the damage caused by LEGAL medications I was prescribed. I legally hold a medical marijuana licence, to which I only take when I am physically unable to relax or go to sleep. I have gone from medications that are covered by the government but slowly destroy my bodily functions to a drug that allows my to live a somewhat normal life as long as I can afford it.
    The interesting thing about medical marijuana is that even though they have been running studies on the effects of cannabis on the system since the early 1900’s, the individuals running the studies state that their findings are inconclusive on the effects of marijuana. Yet, when you receive any prescription from the pharmacy; the list of side effects is disturbing.
    The only difference between medical marijuana and the so called legal prescriptions, in my case is that I can go several days without ingesting any medical marijuana and only use it on a need to basis. I had one prescription that started out with 2 pills twice a day and ended with me taking 3 pills-3 times a day whether I required it or not.
    My favorite thing in all of this, because I injured myself. I now have bowel and intestinal problems that will haunt me until I die, but worse than that is all that I want to do is go to work so I can live a normal life like the rest of you; but I have to sit back and explain myself every time one of you questions my ability to preform. If I have had the choice I would choose not to take medical marijuana or any drug, I am ex-smoker and I don`t drink.
    I am currently in the progress of completing my AZ/Heavy Equipment course, in which I am scoring very well; want to know what`s funny–The only thing that any of will remember is that I have used cannabis and I am a pot head. Talk about progress.
    Patti, good luck and don`t back down. Remember that you are not alone.

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