Lawmakers on Capitol Hill got an earful recently from representatives of the trucking industry concerned about being caught in the middle of the debate over state-legal marijuana. They are concerned that further inaction relating to reconciling conflicting federal and state laws will only harm an industry already struggling to solve a labor shortage.
As things currently stand, truck drivers carrying goods across state lines are regulated by federal law. They are required to undergo regular drug testing. If a driver’s test reveals marijuana consumption, their commercial driver’s license could be yanked.
Where is the conflict? Truck drivers do not have to undergo federally mandated drug tests if their jobs do not carry them across state lines. Federal regulators only have authority over interstate commerce; they have no say in intrastate activities.
States Need to Be Just as Tough
Among the many things lawmakers heard during recent hearings was an assertion that states need to be just as tough on truck drivers as the federal government. Representatives from the American Trucking Association (ATA) told lawmakers that they do not want to see anyone get behind the wheel of a big rig while impaired by any substance – including marijuana.
ATA representatives also made it clear that the trucking industry is caught in the middle whenever litigation arises. A classic case would involve a lawsuit against a trucking company whose driver was involved in an accident while impaired by marijuana. Because the trucking company is not allowed to test for it, their hands are tied.
It’s Not Just Driving Trucks
Trucking industry experts make a valid point about the conflict between federal and state law. But the conflict doesn’t just hurt truck drivers and their employers. Conflicting laws cause all sorts of problems for businesses, consumers, law enforcement, and even lawmakers themselves.
Unfortunately, conflicting laws also turn otherwise innocent citizens into criminals. Take something as simple as traveling to see friends or relatives in another state. Traveling from Colorado to Utah illustrates the problem clearly enough.
Colorado is among those states that have legalized both medical and recreational marijuana. In Utah, only medical cannabis is allowed. Imagine a medical user in Colorado traveling to Utah to visit family for three weeks. Because it is illegal under federal law to transport marijuana across state lines, the Colorado resident cannot take his medical cannabis with him. If he does anyway, he becomes a criminal.
Purchasing Marijuana in Utah
It should be noted that Utah law also makes it illegal to carry marijuana into the state. So the Colorado resident would be breaking both federal and state law by taking medical cannabis with him when he visits. If he still wants access to his medicines while in Utah, he needs to purchase medical cannabis from a Utah dispensary.
According to the operators of the Pure Utah medical cannabis pharmacy in Payson, out-of-town visitors can apply for a temporary medical cannabis card prior to their visits. A visitor card is valid for three weeks. Visitors can apply for temporary cards up to twice per year.
Would reconciling state and federal laws change this scenario? Perhaps. Federal decriminalization would eliminate the prohibition against carrying marijuana across state lines – at least in theory. Utah and Colorado would hopefully follow suit, thereby allowing a Colorado patient to bring his own medical cannabis when he visits the Beehive State.
If all this sounds confusing, you are in the same boat as the trucking industry. Conflicting state and federal laws cause all sorts of problems. The only way to address those problems is to reconcile the conflicts.