Medical marijuana and trucking

You knew it would happen eventually. Since the federal government okayed the use of medicinal marijuana in about 2001, many Canadians have resorted to the treatment to ease the suffering from conditions such as chronic pain. It stands to reason some of those Canadians would be truck drivers.

I spoke to one such truck driver in early May. Patti Satok was seriously injured on the job in 2005, when a 1,500-lb skid fell on top of her. You can read her story on pg. 20 of this issue. But in short, her life since the accident has been extremely difficult.

She said seeking a prescription for medical marijuana was her last resort. She says she’s medically and legally disabled, suffering from post-traumatic arthritis, fibromyalgia and is in need of several major surgeries.

Conventional prescriptions caused her physical and mental side-effects, she claims. She even considered suicide.

Satok told me she uses medical marijuana in honey form at night, while off-duty, to ease the pain and allow her to sleep. But the pre-employment drug test she recently failed doesn’t discriminate between legal and illegal forms of the drug.

Now the company that offered her the job – and had already put her through orientation – is scrambling. Its own policy handbook says the use of prescription drugs is permitted, but illegal drugs, naturally, are not. Satok rightly claims the marijuana she ingests while off-duty is legal.

The American rules on this are less murky. The US DoT has clearly stated that a failed drug test is a failed drug test – it doesn’t matter if it results from smoking doobs on the weekend or ingesting prescribed marijuana for pain relief.

Don’t even go near the border with marijuana, medicinal or otherwise. But Satok’s job was domestic – no crossing the border required – and aside from the pre-employment drug test, it’s unlikely she’d have to pee in a cup again. She already did a stint with a driver services agency and didn’t run into the problem there.

As for the carrier that offered Satok the job, I don’t think it did anything wrong. This is one of those issues you don’t necessarily anticipate having to deal with until it arrives at your doorstep.

One thing’s for certain. Many carriers will need to update their policy handbooks to reflect this new reality. But would it even matter? Satok argues that discrimination against medicinal marijuana users is just that – discrimination, and a violation of her rights as a Canadian. She’s not breaking any laws, she contends, as long as the effects of her funny honey sandwiches have worn off before she gets behind the wheel. And she’s probably right.

In the weeks ahead, we’ll offer expert analysis and legal insight. We’ll also explore what exactly medical marijuana is and how it differs from the stuff you may – or may not – have experimented with in your college days.

The industry needs to be aware of this issue and to understand its implications. Satok said she’s willing to be the face of this issue in the trucking industry. I bet no carrier is quite so eager.

Have you had experience with drivers who use medical marijuana? Are you a driver who does so? I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences.

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James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 20 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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  • The biggest problem is that the marijuana effect dose not disappear and the side effects are very prolonged for a long time. Yes, you can fall a sleep driving if you smoked marijuana and the effect has gone.
    I have nothing against Marijuana, but would not recommend anyone to accept any driver who smokes it – weather it is legal or not, weather the driver has the right to do it or not!! Remember : Prolonged side effects are dangerous.

    • “The biggest problem is that the marijuana effect dose not disappear and the side effects are very prolonged for a long time.”

      Remember : Prolonged side effects are dangerous.

      Substitute the word alcohol for the word marijuana in your comment.

    • I would not say that 1-2 hours is “prolonged.” I would never fall asleep behind the wheel. And If I did make any mistakes, they would be MY fault, not marijuana’s fault. If someone chooses to use a safe substance like marijuana or caffeine, I say let them. Alcohol on the other hand, can be very dangerous in excess. Michael, you clearly have very much against marijuana and those who use it. If someone wishes to contribute to society and transport goods and happens to smoke marijuana, they should be 100% allowed to do as they please. But instead, there aren’t enough drivers, and many people sit at home wondering how else they can make ends meet.

    • Your recommendation is discriminatory based on a medical issue. The employer does not have the luxury of basing employment on a persons health conditions.
      If it is acceptable to an agency that governs truckers such as the DOT is a horse of a different color

  • As a professional driver i have to be fit for duty. So how does using medicinal marijuana make it fit for duty as a professional driver. If you can’t drive truck without it then go home and find another profession. I have the right as a non user of this kinda of drug to be safe on the road.

    • Ask any law enforcement officer their feelings on alcohol vs marijuana with regards to motor vehicles. Oh ya, and the driver in the rig beside you just had 3 beers with supper…or not, but by morning all traces of his activity will be long gone. Feeling safe yet.

    • And those who smoke cigarettes shouldn’t be allowed to drive trucks? Because they “can’t drive a truck without it” and hell anyone who requires food and water and shelter “can’t drive a truck” without that stuff so maybe they should just go home too.

  • I feel for Satok. She just wants to do her job IN CANADA, but as most carriers don’t differentiate between southbound drivers and those who stay at home, at least when Driver Check is involved. She is probably out of luck for the short term. I see this as an added expence to carriers and a dispatchers nightmare that has no simple answer.

  • I to was not hired by a company for failing the pre. Employment drug test, although I had worked there thru a service for 2 yrs prior to the test it was there policy. Although I have a job in canada only and no longer use marihuana I am back on t3s wich I take approx 200 per month. She said she was permanently disabled. Physically and mentally why would she work in this industry its a lot of physical work why not just get her dr to put her on disability. Also I would much rather be ingesting marajuana and feeling better then taking all the pills that will eventually kill me. There are a lot worse prescription drug users on the road to worry about than us

  • I would advise eveeryone to become familiar with the Canadian Human Right’s Commission’s Policy on Drug and Alcohol Testing.

    Although each circumstance can have grey lines, this is a well documented outline in which Canadian companies should be using to ensure their internal policies do not contradict that of Human Rights.

    Before everyone, gets all up in arms with me regarding how truck drivers should be screened for drugs and alcohol, I agree. However, we cannot take the rules and make them fit and until such time as legislation catches up with the science of these substances we are obligated to ensure everyone is treated equally under the law. I believe she has a Human Rights case on her hands. Her job was specific to Canada, no obligation to travel into the US where testing is mandatory. Do they have prospects sign a document outlining their employment as safety sensitive, does it meet those standards in Canada?

    The intent of drug and alcohol testing is to ensure that you are capable to work in a safety sensitive function at the time the test is taking place. A pre-employment drug test only shows she had traces of the drug in her system and not reflective of immediate impairment.

    As for the assumptions her affects are long lasting, I do not recall MD after your name. With the consideration that you don’t know her metabolism, her weight, her dose. All anyone hears in marijuana nightly and she is villified. Frankly, I would feel safer knowing I am driving beside a well rested comfortable driver than one who has sleep apnea not really resting during an 8 hour shut down (2 hour nap later) which happens to be during the day because the shipper wasn’t ready when he was sent in, taking Ty 3’s for his lower back pain. That’s not even the worst of scenarios. Many of which wouldn’t even include a commercial motor vehicle.

    I hope things work out for her long term.

    • I honestly don’t see the ‘risk’ you are referring to. Just because someone uses HARMLESS marijuana, doesn’t mean others around them are at some kind of risk….where does this superstition even come from? What do you think marijuana DOES to people….makes them lose all control of everything around them?! All that REALLY happens when someone takes 1 puff is that they relax, become MORE focused, more aware of possible danger, a little bit more resilient to cold, exhaustion. Oh they might think about things as well.

      We’re not talking about popping 5 vicodin or having 3 drinks here. That is partying. Getting wasted. Tripping. Someone who takes a lot of drugs like that may even smoke as well.

      But the typical marijuana smoker just wants that 1 or a few puffs to feel RIGHT again. Not to feel WASTED…

    • Look at the statistics of how many accidents and people are killed with Alcohol compared to Marijuana. I take it that this truck driver is driving in Alberta which is the only province in Canada that does this drug testing that I know of. It would be interesting see how many substitute or mask there drug tests. I work in Alberta and have figured out of 300 employees in my company over half use drugs and cheat on the drug test. How safe you feel now. Get educated. The effects of marijuana are gone after three hours to four hours for me. Medical marijuana should be based on a case by case basis i have my lawyer picked and paper work filled out for the day my drug test substitution doesn’t work, I will be taking to every court i can. The studies are out there and from some of the post i seen maybe people should start reading them instead of guessing. Oh and truck drivers talking on your CB radio is distracted driving which causes more accidents then marijuana per year and is Illegal, and when you un educated truckers are reading the studies on marijuana, be sure not to be driving because we all see how safe you all are wether we are high or not.

  • Wow is all I can say. There are clearly people who comment that have absolutly no clue what they are talking about! Their particular ideology on marijuana use comes from mommy, daddy( definitly uneducated/unread) and politicians who convinced mommy and daddy that marijuana is bad mmmkay! To bad they dont realize it was made illeagal from racisist white men back in the day who wanted ways to control minorities. Then the paper/timber/ clothing producers decided hemp was cutting into their profits.
    There are zero statistics that show anybody who is smoking marijuana has ever died or caused a death! Yes there are statistics for people using both alcohol and thc combined…. But just marijuana has never ever killed anybody. Those who are against it have probably never tried or over indulged when they did and believe we all r affected the same! To bad there are studies that prove people with adhd for instance are not affected the same as those without. Check out Dr Berman in California I believe is a good reference. So to end this lets try really educating ourselves before we put down others! I mean come on, tobacco has how many adictive chemicals added to it to get u hooked! Alcohol has very adictive properties… I promise u, actually I can guarantee next to zero addictive problems with marijuana usage compared to the “legal drugs”. How safe do u feel knowing there r truckers who dont have money to buy smokes and are fired up angry driving amongst people in cars that are cutting him off and brake checking him..
    ……. Or the guy who hasnt had a drink since breakfeast….
    Come on people wake up! Stop trying to make yourself feel good because to politicans say they are right!