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Legal Marijuana: Impacts Worker Shortage and … Real Estate?

As the Canadian government moves toward marijuana legalization, Canadian carriers might want to look at how similar policies in legalized marijuana states impact the trucking industry and its legal responsibilities.

Colorado’s experience, for example, has been a mixed with both anticipated and unforeseen developments, writes Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Association, in Heavy Duty Trucking.

Colorado voters passed a voter referendum in 2012 that authorized the legal sale of marijuana for recreational use, treating it in a manner similar to alcohol. The law took effect on January 1, 2014. Many proponents of the measure viewed enforcement of marijuana laws as a poor use of law enforcement and court resources. Further, many saw that the taxation of this product could significantly increase the state’s revenue, which could be used for primary education as well as drug prevention and rehabilitation programs.

While legalization has been a boon for the state’s tax revenues, a key area of concern was the impact of legalization on highway safety. The impact has been difficult to determine because of the lack of a good, quick, roadside test for marijuana as there is for alcohol. Overall Colorado’s accidents and fatalities are not significantly greater than prior to legalization.

Usage levels for marijuana in Colorado did appear to increase across all age groups since legalization. This, noted HDT, has created a particular problem for the trucking industry that are mandated to require safety-sensitive positions like truck drivers to be  a drug-free.

Legalization has made an already critical shortage of drivers worse as truck drivers are in violation of the law if there is even a trace of marijuana in their system.

In addition, other positions or jobs in the trucking industry where employees are tested have also seen a spike in failed tests.

While Colorado’s trucking industry anticipated the challenge associated with higher failure rate for drug tests, it did not foresee some of the other challenges associated with legalization.

Writes Fulton:

One major surprise was the space/storage requirements for the marijuana industry. The marijuana industry is much more than the local shop that sells the product. It requires an infrastructure of “grow houses” and warehouses to support the business. The magnitude of this demand and its impact on industries like trucking was clearly underestimated. The price of warehouse space as well as terminals (that have been converted) has risen dramatically, and there is now a shortage of space.

A recent article noted that between 2009 (the year when medical marijuana was approved) and 2014, marijuana businesses accounted for more than a third of all industrial space leased in the Denver metro area. As a result, prices have soared and industrial space is at a premium. This led to several trucking companies being forced out of properties that they had leased for many years due to higher rents or the repurposing of these sites by the marijuana industry.

We anticipate that the shortage of terminal/warehouse space may be alleviated as new industrial sites are built, as well as the possibility that legalization of marijuana in other states may reduce sales within Colorado.

We do not see an end in sight, however, on the greater challenge that legalization has created in finding drivers, technicians, and others for our industry who must be drug free to work in it.

The topic of marijuana legalization in Canada and how it affects the responsibilities of trucking companies will be one of many operational issues explored in-depth at the OTA’s Council Summit on June 22 in Toronto. To learn more about the full program and to register, click here.

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