Safety levels, workforce pool sure to take hit from marijuana legalization

The National Mixer Driver Championship is one of the most successful efforts to date from National Ready Mixed Concrete Association members and staff. We look forward to covering the event (pages 14-15) and joining in a salute to drivers and the competence, professionalism and sound judgment they exude. Ready mixed producers and their mainline trucking peers could use more commercial driver’s license holders or candidates exhibiting such qualities, yet are likely to see fewer in the fallout of a highly questionable trend among state legislatures: Legalizing recreational cannabis or marijuana use.

Just as 2019 National Mixer Driver Championship participants were returning to delivery duty, two authorities on safety weighed in on legal pot’s negative ramifications for roadways and workplaces. The American Trucking Associations, which has sent representatives to observe recent Mixer Driver Championships, endorsed new policies or recommendations aimed at helping fleets continue to safely operate in an environment where more states—with combined population approaching 100 million—are liberalizing marijuana laws.

ATA calls for government agencies maintaining employers’ right to test for marijuana if they determine that use could adversely affect safety; more study of the drug’s impact on impairment; development of oral fluid testing and impairment standards; and, creation of a marijuana victim’s compensation fund underwritten by dispensaries, cultivators and producers. These proposals join prior policies in which the trucking federation has advocated for the government to allow alternative drug testing methods; creation of a national database of positive drug and alcohol test results; and, adoption of strong anti-impaired driving laws.

“ATA has long been an advocate for reducing impaired driving—in all its forms—so it only makes sense that we would call upon state and federal governments to consider the impact of increased use of marijuana on our roadways,” said CEO Chris Spear. “We need all levels of government to help us keep our roads and drivers drug-free.”

Speaking to employers in transportation and beyond, the National Safety Council followed the ATA with its own no nonsense take on pot. Regardless of state laws on consumption, the group called on employers to ban the use of cannabis for workers in safety sensitive positions—where execution of duties impacts the well being of the employees themselves and co-workers. NSC cites studies showing that those under the influence of cannabis can have difficulty breathing, increased heart rate, and experience impaired body movement or memory; altered senses; difficulty with thinking and problem-solving; changes in mood; plus, hallucinations and delusions.

“We urge employers to implement policies stating no amount of cannabis consumption is acceptable for those who work in safety sensitive positions,” said NSC CEO Lorraine Martin upon release of a Council position statement addressing pot consumption. “Research clearly shows that cannabis impacts a person’s psychomotor skills and cognitive ability. In order to protect our employees and those around them, we need to acknowledge the impairing effects of cannabis.”

Of respondents to the NSC Employer Survey 2019, 81 percent were concerned about marijuana having a negative impact on their workforce; 71 percent indicated their organization’s written policies cover employee use of illicit cannabis, while only 54 percent said their policies cover employee use of legal or prescribed cannabis; and, 24 percent indicated they would dismiss an employee found to be misusing legal cannabis, such as being under the influence while on the job, while only 7 percent said they would relocate the employee to a position of lesser responsibility.

Proponents of relaxing state laws on recreational marijuana use are quick to talk about tax revenue potential, but ignorant of or oblivious to the other side of the equation: Habitual pot smoking diminishes employment prospects for individuals whose skills are needed to keep the economy strong and state or federal income tax receipts climbing.