New York looks to be on the verge of joining other states in legalizing recreational marijuana. There are several factors both social and economic for pushing through legalization, from racially biased enforcement practices, to the high cost of enforcement. From significant tax revenue that would flow to municipal coffers, to studies that show alcohol and tobacco as more harmful substances than marijuana. While the reasons to legalize marijuana are more than valid, there remain some serious concerns that must be addressed, especially for those in the trucking industry and small business owners.
Certainly, from the trucking perspective, highway and road safety is paramount. According to a 2018 report from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, states that have legalized marijuana have seen an increase in crashes due to impaired driving (IIHS). Education is a vital component in reducing impaired driving and in this case many advocates for legalization do a disservice. By constantly claiming that it is not as harmful as alcohol, many drivers get a false idea that driving while high is not dangerous. The Colorado Department of Transportation has put a great deal of time and resources into their educational campaign called Cannabis Conversation, they discovered that a staggering 55 percent of marijuana users felt it was safe to drive while high. Another huge roadway issue especially as compared to alcohol is that, unlike alcohol, there is currently no way to test for impaired driving roadside (there are hair, blood, urine, and saliva tests but currently they are not effective roadside). Worse, marijuana can stay in a person’s system for up to 30 days, but effects do not last that long, so roadside testing logistics aside, it is difficult to test for impairment.
Outside of roadways many New York employers will find themselves in a difficult spot. CDL drivers are still subject to 49 CFR 382 (Drug & Alcohol Testing) will still be prohibited from using marijuana despite legalization in New York but many trucking companies and service facilities have employees that are not subject to this law. These include technicians, warehouse staff, and non-CDL drivers. It is not clear that employers would maintain the ability to use drug test results when making employment decisions for employees performing safety functions. To that end, many employers must keep a drug free workplace as part of their insurance coverage. They must retain the right keep a drug free workplace after marijuana legalization.
For the legalization of marijuana to work as intended legislators must take roadway safety and employers drug testing ability concerns seriously and work on legislation that benefits everyone.