PMTC seminar sheds light on medical marijuana and trucking

by Sonia Straface

TRURO, N.S. – Trucking and safety go hand in hand – or at least they try to be for most companies in the industry – so the issue of medical marijuana in the workplace when looking at truck drivers is still a hot button issue to fleet managers.

The Private Motor Truck Council (PMTC) in conjunction with the Trucking Human Resource Sector Council Atlantic used the opportunity at its Atlantic Education Seminar in Truro, Nova Scotia last week to inform its members about where Canada is regarding the use of medical marijuana and how it is affecting the trucking industry.

There to speak about the topic was Dr. Barry D. Kurtzer of DriverCheck who first explained the rules surrounding medical marijuana in Canada.

“Medical marijuana in Canada is not new,” he said. “We’ve had medical marijuana laws since 2001 under the Marihuana Medical Access Regulations (MMAR).”

On April 1 2014, however, the government replaced the MMAR with the Marijuana for Medical Purposes Regulations (MMPR), which, as Kurtzer explained, changed a lot about how medical marijuana is perceived and obtained today. With the old regulations, MMAR, Health Canada would licence patients so they could either: 1. obtain medical marijuana directly from Health Canada; 2. grow their own medical marijuana; or 3. have someone else grow it for them. As well, under the MMAR, users needed approval by two physicians to obtain medical marijuana legally.

Now, under the MMRP regulations, which fully replaced MMAR, “Health Canada can no longer approve or license patients nor distribute medical marijuana directly,” according to Kurtzer.

Today, Health Canada merely acts as an overseeing body, and only Health Canada licensed producers can distribute medical marijuana. They are the sole source of medical marijuana in Canada, meaning one else can grow medical marijuana legally except these licensed producers. As well, licensed producers can only sell dried marijuana, fresh buds and leaves and marijuana oil to patients.

“Only physicians and nurse practitioners can authorize someone to use medical marijuana,” added Kurtzer. “And under MMPR, you only need one doctor or nurse practitioner to give you the authorization form.”

The authorization form acts like a prescription, only it’s not called that by name because Health Canada does not classify medical marijuana as a true medication.

The reason why medical marijuana has become such a hot button issue in the industry as of late is because of the dangers it poses to an industry that prides itself on being safe (or trying its best to be safe) and because it is estimated that by 2024, there will be 450,000 medical marijuana users in the country.

That number represents a large number of Canadians and chances are some of them could be truck drivers.

In the United States, explained Kurtzer, things are a little different.

“It’s the feds against the states,” he said. “At the federal level, medical marijuana is illegal. They will have nothing to do with it. The USDOT totally bans its use.”

Which means trucking companies who deliver stateside, better make sure their drivers aren’t seeking this alternative method of treatment, warned Kurtzer.

“However, there are 23 states that have approved the use of medical marijuana, and four states have approved recreational use,” he said. “So, if you do business in the US and you have worker who uses medical marijuana and you’re going to let them work for you, you must know and comply with all applicable federal and state laws.”

In Canada, explained Kurtzer, the waters are a bit muddied.

The Canadian Council of Motor Transport Administrators and the Canadian Medical Association both issued documents on the issue of medical marijuana and driving, called the “National Safety Code” and “Driver’s Guide”, respectively.

There are no specific automatic bans relating to the use of medical marijuana in either documents, said Kurtzer adding that fitness to drive is left up to determination of the physician or the medical practitioner.

“With medical marijuana, most people are worried about the euphoria, because if they’re driving a vehicle, then that’s going to get them into trouble,” he added. “And if they’re predisposed to anxiety…that can make it hard for them to make decisions behind the wheel. Changes in alertness and short term memory, as well as coordination are affected.”

Medical marijuana and street marijuana differ because of the  THC level within the substance. THC is what causes the “high” most people associate with marijuana. But medical marijuana contains a lower amount of THC than marijuana bought and sold on the streets because its use is to relieve pain or treat anxiety.

And because there is no marijuana or THC breathalyzer, all fleet managers have to turn to is the confusing recommendations from the College of Family Physicians of Canada and Health Canada. The College of Family Physicians of Canada claim that patients shouldn’t driver after four hours of inhalation; six hours of oral ingestion; or eight hours after inhalation or ingestion if the patient experiences euphoria. Health Canada says impairment can last up to 24 hours following medical marijuana use.

However, if you terminate a worker for using medical marijuana you could be at risk for a Human Rights complaint, warned Kurtzer.

He advised that in addition to having safety procedures and the like in your business plan it would be wise to add a medical marijuana policy soon.

“Obviously you have to educate your employees and whether or not they should talk to their doctors about if medical marijuana is right for them if it is jeopardizing their job,” he said. “There should also be supervisor training. They should be watching for any indicators that someone is not right on the job. We also highly recommend that an expert be involved in performing a medical marijuana fit for safety independent medical evaluation. At DriverCheck we have partnered with a group who can recommend if a driver is fit to drive or not.”

Kurtzer concluded that if they haven’t already, fleet managers should be deciding if hiring drivers who use medical marijuana is right for their business because of how much could change with the upcoming election.

“You need to have a policy in place and know if you can or cannot accommodate a driver who uses medical marijuana. You should be getting an expert’s opinion when it comes to getting assistance on that decision.”

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