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Is Brown right that legal pot will turn California into a stoner state?
dennis Wyatt web
Dennis Wyatt

Job seekers applying for work in transportation and warehouse jobs in California are testing positive for marijuana at a rate 60 percent higher than in 2015.

The data provided by Quest Diagnostics underscores a negative side effect of legalizing recreational marijuana use.

Putting that in perspective of the overall general workforce in California it doesn’t seem as serious as one out of every 33 job applicants are now failing marijuana tests compared to one in every 50 in 2015.

The marijuana failure rate, though, for many trucking jobs and even warehouse positions where safety is a major concern are moving ever so steadily toward a crisis point.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that one national food distributor said hiring warehouse workers in states where recreational use of marijuana has been legalized is almost impossible. The situation is most acute in California.

The growing overall failure rate has prompted a growing number of firms in states which have legalized recreational marijuana to either raise the threshold relating to presence of cannabis in the system or drop it from their drug screening entirely when screening to fill a number of positions.

That isn’t an option for trucking firms and warehouses where reaction time can be a matter of life and death or avoiding costly work-related injuries and even lawsuits if a driver from a company becomes involved in a traffic accident.

Some will argue it’s not fair as marijuana residue lingers in the system much longer than the time period when it slows down reaction by making people “mellow” and “relaxed.” Traces of marijuana stays in the body even after its impacts wear off much longer than alcohol.

But there has been no test developed that can determine at what point marijuana in the system ceases being a potential drag on reaction time.

Don’t look for trucking firms or warehouse operations to shuck marijuana testing.

As a member of Congress noted would say, it’s because it is “all about the Benjamin (Franklins).”

Legal and illegal drugs now account for 16 percent of all driving while impaired arrests. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research shows those who use marijuana are 25 percent more likely to be in a traffic accident than those that do not use marijuana.

Given the settlement consequences of having a truck driver you employ involved in a traffic accident involving major injury or death can be extremely high, lawmakers and the courts are not ever likely to outlaw mandatory drug screening tests.

And because marijuana users can increase a company’s exposure to accident claims, lawsuits and worker’s compensation settlements rest assured insurance companies are going to make sure drug screening is a prerequisite for providing coverage for trucking firms and warehouse operations as well as other industries that have jobs that are safety sensitive.

A poll by the Society of Human Resource Management showed more than half of the 1,058 hiring managers surveyed required applicants to take drug tests in a bid to reduce exposure to workplace accidents and legal disputes.

The impact of marijuana and drug tests on the hiring process can’t be overstated. One prime example is what happened with Joseph’s Gourmet Pasta Company. The firm is based in Massachusetts that is one of 10 states where marijuana’s recreational use is legalized. After failing to hire enough workers due to applicants not being able to pass drug tests, they resorted to going to neighboring Vermont to hire qualified applicants that could pass drug tests to fill 100 positions representing almost half of the firm’s assembly line.

States where recreational marijuana has been legalized are experiencing failure rates for job applicants on marijuana drug tests above the national average including Oregon where it is more than double according Quest Diagnostics data.

Rest assured, some will argue that marijuana is not like alcohol.

However in the case of optimum reaction when driving or operating machinery it is. Marijuana relaxes the user. The very concept of being mellow is on the other end of the scale of being attentive and sharp.

Congress mandated drug testing for workers in trucking, rail, and other industries involving the operating of machinery after a 1987 train crash in Maryland where the crew tested positive for marijuana. Subsequent train crashes have reduced positive results for marijuana in the crew’s system including a 2016 Amtrak crash.

This, of course, is not helping employers when California’s unemployment rate is holding steady at 4.4 percent.

The difficulty of finding drivers who can pass drug tests is one of the reasons full-time truck drivers out of the gate can often make $62,000 a year. Marijuana use has shrunk the employment pool.

There will come a point where marijuana use will drive up the cost of labor beyond what it should be in industries that rely on drivers or the operation of machinery.

By year’s end there could be as many as 18 states that will have legalized recreational marijuana. The Pew Research Center polling shows in excess of 60 percent of Americans favor marijuana legalization. That’s double the number than in 2000.

Then Gov. Jerry Brown expressed reservations in 2016 about the ballot initiative voters ultimately approved to legally allow the adult consumption of marijuana for recreational purposes.

His argument was that California could ill afford a “stoned” workforce that would put the state at a competitive disadvantage. Of course that disadvantage would disappear if the entire country made it legal to get stoned which, granted, isn’t all that much different than being sloshed.

Brown in March of 2014 on NBC’s Meet the Press provided further insight to his rationale that legalizing marijuana wasn’t a good idea because the population needs to “stay alert.”

“The problem with anything is a certain amount is OK,” Brown told his interviewers. “But there is a tendency to go to extremes. All of a sudden, if there is advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great or a great nation? The world’s pretty dangerous, very competitive. I think we need to stay alert, if not 24 hours a day, more than some of the potheads might be able to put together.”

Brown was once again the only adult in the room among those who controlled Sacramento. He didn’t argue whether marijuana was a getaway drug, was somehow worse than drinking or smoking, nor did he argue it was an evil drug to partake in.

His argument was based on doubts California and the nation could afford to legalize something that could become as destructive in terms of it’s impact on society as alcohol abuse. Making it legal removes a significant barrier of resistance.

This comes from a man who made it clear the war on drugs was a dismal failure.

His reluctance to embrace marijuana being legalized was over concern what would happen if the misdemeanor for small amounts of possession went away removing a hindrance that helped keep the use of marijuana somewhat in check.

What we are doing is akin to lifting Prohibition.

The negative impacts that marijuana legalization is spreading is not opening the door to more potent and dangerous drug use.

It is creating economic ills, contributing to impaired driving, and masking physical and relationship problems.

It is indeed no different than alcohol even though relatively little is known about the long-term impact of heavy marijuana use or cannabis consumption that starts at an early age and remains steady through life. 

Marijuana may indeed be no worse or a bit better than alcohol.

Given the damage alcohol has done on our roads, to families, lost productivity and long-term health issues saying marijuana is the same as beer or liquor is one hell of an indictment.

This column is the opinion of Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Ceres Courier or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.