06 July 2022 |

Cannabis & truckers, federal protections for state programs, D.C. ditches docs for cannabis patients

By Kaitlin Domangue

Cannabis & the trucker shortage

The Transportation Department says roughly 300,000 truck drivers leave the profession every year. But the lack of training and apprenticeship programs during COVID-19 made it worse. 

A Wells Fargo analyst said federal cannabis criminalization and THC testing mandates are the real reasons behind the U.S. trucker shortage. 

More than 72,000 truckers have been removed from their position since January 2020 after testing positive for THC. 

Cannabis is still a Schedule I substance. So the federal government prohibits truck drivers from consuming it recreationally or medically. 

“We want to make it perfectly clear that the DOJ guidelines will have no bearing on the Department of Transportation’s regulated drug testing program,” said DOT. “We will not change our regulated drug testing program based upon these guidelines to Federal prosecutors.”

Unlike some positions, skirting the no THC rule is almost impossible as a truck driver. 

There are plenty of opportunities for truck drivers to be drug tested. 

There’s the obvious pre-employment and post-accident drug testing, but truck drivers are also randomly tested and upon reasonable suspicion to avoid accidents on the road. 

THC stays in the body for up to 90 days in the hair, a month or longer in urine, 48 hours in saliva, and up to 36 hours in the blood. 

That’s a huge reason behind the push to modify the Department of Transportation’s cannabis rules. 

Lots of government industries, or industries with federal oversight, face staffing shortages for the same reason. Including the postal service. 

A Colorado Congressman said that federally legalizing cannabis would help people get their mail delivered on time and ease the U.S. Postal Service’s staffing shortages. 

Last September, the U.S. Postal Service had over 100,000 positions available nationwide. 

What I’m Thinking 🧠 

People can test positive for THC 30+ days after last consuming cannabis because of how it digests in the body. 

The Department of Transportation’s stance on cannabis is understandable, but not realistic. A positive THC test doesn’t always mean the person is under the influence. 

I don’t predict that the DOT’s position on this will change anytime soon, though, because they oversee safety-sensitive positions. 

Even if cannabis was removed from the controlled substances list, the DOT doesn’t have to allow it. 

And they likely won’t. There are similar, albeit not as strict, rules for opioids – which are already federally regulated. 

State legal cannabis programs see new federal protections

A House subcommittee approved a cannabis legislative amendment on June 30th. This provision is supposed to protect legal recreational cannabis business owners and consumers from federal interference and prosecution. 

The rider provision is part of the Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies’ Fiscal 2023 spending legislation. 

It prevents the Department of Justice from interfering with state-legal cannabis operations with federal funds. 

“Congress must honor the will of the voters and prevent wasteful Department of Justice prosecution of those complying with their respective state’s or tribe’s cannabis regulations,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer of Oregon. “I have spearheaded the work to develop this language, which protects the state and tribal-legal programs that have been enacted laws to end prohibitionary policies and allow the development of both adult-use and medical marijuana programs.”

Since 2014, Congress has passed provisions protecting medical cannabis businesses, but up until now, no protection existed for recreational businesses. But not everyone is convinced that this move means much. 

“Although the House Bill is another symbolic step in the right direction for protecting state-legal cannabis industries, it is unlikely to provide practical protection from federal law enforcement interference,” Skinner wrote in an email to High Times. “As we have seen before with the Rohrabacher Farr appropriations rider, federal law enforcement agencies have taken a narrow view about what constitutes ‘interference,’ and judicial decisions have differed by jurisdictions.”

What I’m Thinking 🧠 

The Rohrabacher-Farr provision (the rider preventing federal interference of medical cannabis) wasn’t considered much by the federal court until recently. 

In a 2016 case, United States vs. McIntosh, it was ruled that the DOJ couldn’t prosecute businesses in compliance with state laws. 

In theory, this means any cannabis business outside of the line by even a smidge is no longer compliant and can be prosecuted by the federal government. 

An early 2022 case deviated from the McIntosh case ruling, but “didn’t go as far as I urged”, according to Professor Scott Bloomberg of the University of Maine School of Law who submitted an amicus brief. 

It appears that it’s still up to each federal court to decide whether or not the provision applies, in both medical and recreational cannabis markets.

D.C. ditches doctor’s visits for patients

It’s a win for medical cannabis patients in D.C. and across the country. 

Washington D.C. recently voted to let patients self-certify for medical cannabis, eliminating the need for a doctor. Before this amendment passed, D.C. residents had to meet with a doctor before applying for a medical cannabis card. 

From there, they’d submit an application with the state and pay a $100 fee. The fee is $25 for low-income patients who can prove their status. This new amendment won’t get rid of state applications, but the doctor’s visit that comes before it. 

D.C. is one of the first, most likely the first, to allow this. 

The Medical Marijuana Self-Certification Emergency Amendment Act of 2022 (B24-0886) was passed to work around the “Harris rider.” 

It’s a rider provision that’s been successfully attached to federal funding legislation every year since 2014. Republican Rep., Andy Harris, is the one who proposes it every year – hence the name “Harris rider.” 

The Harris rider prevents Washington D.C. from using federal funds to regulate or tax recreational cannabis. Medical cannabis has been legal in the jurisdiction since 2011, but there’s been a consistent effort to prevent recreational cannabis in Washington. 

B24-0886 was passed in an effort to minimize the gifting trend in D.C. and encourage residents to shop from the legal market. 

Three months ago, D.C. lawmakers rejected a similar bill that would crack down on the gifting trend, but also allow patients in D.C. to self-certify for medical cannabis. 

What I’m Thinking 🧠 

It’s one step closer to making cannabis accessible for all patients. 

Unlike other pieces of legislation that actually don’t move the needle, D.C.’s new amendment will immediately yield positive results for patients and businesses alike. 

Medical cannabis isn’t covered under insurance, so medical cannabis doctor’s visits easily cost $200 and patients have to renew annually. 

I hope to see more states following in D.C.’s footsteps. But, we also have to keep education in the picture. Doctor’s visits are often the only time a patient talks face to face with a medical professional about cannabis. 

Utilizing free resources like Leaf 411 ensures patients know their dose and any potential drug interactions with cannabis and the medication they are taking.