The states of Colorado and Washington took monumental steps in November, when voters in those two states voted to approve the recreational use of, and possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. Even though marijuana is still listed as an illegal drug by the federal government, the government has opted not to challenge the voters' choice in either of those states.
Marijuana use still unacceptable
Marijuana is still listed as a Schedule 1 drug by the U.S. Department of Transportation, and its use is expressly prohibited for transportation workers, including truck and bus drivers. Nonresidents in Colorado and Washington will be allowed to purchase marijuana (up to an ounce in Washington and a quarter ounce in Colorado), but it remains illegal for truck and bus drivers to use marijuana within the state and it is also illegal to transport the marijuana across state lines.
Jim Swart, director of the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance for the US Department of Transportation, published a notice of compliance in both December 2012 and again in February 2013, stressing the use of marijuana remains unlawful for those in the transportation industry.
"It is important to note that marijuana remains a drug listed in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act," Swart said in the notice. "It remains unacceptable for any safety-sensitive employee subject to drug testing under the Department of Transportation's drug testing regulations to use marijuana."
Therefore, Swart said, Medical Review Officers will not verify a drug test as negative based upon learning that an employee used "recreational" marijuana or "medical" marijuana, when states have passed either the recreational or medical marijuana initiatives.
"We want to make it perfectly clear that the state initiatives will have no bearing on the Department of Transportation's regulated drug testing program," Swart said. "The Department of Transportation's Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation ... does not authorize the use of Schedule 1 drugs, including marijuana, for any reason."
Federal statistics show that marijuana use among truck drivers remains relatively low. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has estimated a 0.6 percent marijuana usage rate among commercial drivers in 2011 (the latest statistics available), based on random tests.
The Drug Enforcement Administration announced in mid-January its intent to classify four versions of synthetic marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug and regulate it under the Controlled Substances Act. That would mean any truck operators who use a version of synthetic marijuana and fail a drug test would be disqualified from operating a commercial motor vehicle.
These synthetic cannabinoids have been classified as a Schedule 1 drug because they have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision and pose an imminent hazard to the public safety.
Synthetic cannabinoids were first created in the early 1980s for research purposes in the investigation of the cannabinoid system. Synthetic cannabinoids are a large family of compounds that are functionally (biologically) similar to delta9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the main active ingredient in marijuana, according to the Federal Register. These are not organic and were created in a laboratory.
The initial appearance of synthetic cannabinoids, used in herbal incense products in the United States, was in 2008. Mixing the synthetic cannabinoids with plant material provides for it to be smoked most commonly. The synthetic cannabinoids are sold under hundreds of different brand names, but the most common names include Spice, K2, Blaze, Red X Dawn, Paradise, Demon, Black Magic, Spike, Mr. Nice Guy, Ninja, Zohai, Dream, Genie, Sence, Smoke, Skunk, Serenity, Yucatan, Fire and Crazy Clown.
Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse
Meanwhile, a rule that would implement a driver database showing the driver's history of failed drug and alcohol tests, or those who refused to take the test, was approved Jan. 27 by the White House's Office of Management and Budget and is now published in the Federal Register as a Notice of Proposed rulemaking.It is unclear when the final rule would come about, but following the comment period, it is possible the final rule could happen this year.
The proposed rule would require employers to report a positive test result or refusal, and employers will be able to query to database, with the applicant's permission. It will give carriers a way to make sure the prospective employee has completed the return-to-duty process and ensure carriers are doing the required testing. Employers would be required to make sure a driver applicant has been tested within the last three years and if they tested positive, return-to-duty action has been completed. Employers also must check to see if an applicant has refused to take a test. Employers must check the data base annually.
Employers would pay a nominal fee to use the system, although there would be no charge for drivers who seek their own information.
Drivers must give their consent for employers to see their records. A driver would be notified when the clearinghouse received a record, when a record has been modified or deleted and when the result has been released to an employer. Drivers would also be able to check the accuracy of the report and make updates if necessary. There would also be a dispute procedure and an appeals process.