The implications of medical marijuana

You knew it would happen eventually. Since the federal government okayed the use of medicinal marijuana in 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.

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.

This story emerged just as Truck News was going to press, but we’ll have follow-up articles online and in print in the weeks ahead.

Some of them will include expert analysis and legal insight. Some will 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.

James Menzies is editor of Today's Trucking. He has been covering the Canadian trucking industry for more than 18 years and holds a CDL. Reach him at or follow him on Twitter at @JamesMenzies.

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