Saturday, December 15, 2012

Drug Testing - A False Positive?

Was the driver of the above vehicle (photo by Corey Lamb) on a medical marijuana break?

Not coincidentally, the SFMTA's drug & Alcohol testing policy was the high point of last Tuesday's Town Hall Meeting.

The basics of the policy will be:

1. Every new A-Card holder must pass the test to become a cab driver.
2. Every driver will be given a test at random at a location yet to be determined. Rumors is that you'd have to show up within an hour.
3. Drivers would have to be tested after accidents: involving loss of life, when a citation is issued within 8 hours, when there is bodily injury or the vehicle is damaged so that it needs to be towed.
4. Drivers might also be tested for the infamous Probable Cause or Reasonable Suspicion of drug or alcohol abuse. This is to be based upon specific, contemporaneous observations by trained company (MTA?) officials.

The drugs tested for are: PCP, Opiates, Amphetamines, Cocaine, Marijuana (and alcohol?)

A driver testing Positive will be immediately removed from service,  suspended for 30 days and refereed to substance abuse professionals for follow up.

If a driver refused to be tested he or she will be considered guilty with the above consequences.


On the MTA handout it says that the cost will be $125 per driver per year. Needless to say this wasn't popular with the drivers at the Town Hall meetings.

Director Chris Hayashi said during the meeting I attended that neither the cost nor having drivers pay for it are set in stone. She said that that no - the MTA will not make a profit on the test and that she got the price from one testing service. She said that she would look into others.

She also said that both she and her boss, Director Ed Reiskin, felt that charging the drivers for the test was unfair in light of gargantuan amounts of money that the MTA is already taking away from the drivers. She said that they were seeing what they could do about it.

Editorial Comment

I am against anybody driving under the influence of any drug including over-the-counter pills likely to make a people sleepy or slow down their reflexes.

If I have a cold severe enough to require pills I won't go to work. In fact, that's why I'm sitting here writing this on a Friday night instead of driving. In order to buy the medicine at Walgreens I had to show my I.D. I have yet to look up which substance required this law but, whatever it is, I clearly shouldn't be driving under its influence.

I don't drink any more but I have been an Irish drinker in the past.  However, in 28 years of cab driving, the only time I ever drove a taxi with alcohol in me was after a New Year's Eve party. I waited two hours before I started work so I think was under the legal limit. I still wouldn't recommend it. A killer hangover set in at around 4 am. That was over 20 years ago.

As for marijuana - as a child of the sixties I've been partaking in the pleasure since I was 19. This reminds me of a story about Louie Armstrong. When he asked if he thought marijuana was addictive, the great jazzman reportedly said,

"No man, it ain't addictive. I've been smokin' it for forty years."

I've always been an infrequent social user and now rarely smoke at all. There was a time when I would allow my customers to beguile me into having a hit or two in my taxi but I've long since concluded that this was a bad idea. (See The High Way to the Airport)

Nevertheless, I think that including a test that cannot measure intoxication levels, that cannot tell within reasonable parameters when a drug was used is worse than useless. PCP, Opiates, Amphetamines and Cocaine are all out of the system in two or three days. These are addictive and destructive drugs. In the Seventies, all the "creative" people I knew thought coke was the "hippest thing". Most of them ended up using the other stuff as well and most of them died before they reached fifty. Nobody driving a taxi should have a touch of these drugs in their  systems - for their own good if no one else's.

It's hard to ignore that marijuana is a drug of a different category. There is no such thing as medical PCP or Meth or Heroin or Cocaine. Marijuana use is socially acceptable and on its way to becoming legal everywhere. It's also common to have customers who have been using it or want to use it in the taxi.

Yes - of course you don't want people driving a cab when they are stoned but unless a test can demonstrate the difference between a person who smoked a joint thee weeks before the test and a person using it an hour before, the test is not fulfilling its purpose - to keep stoned, and only stoned, cab drivers off the road. As it is, anybody being treated with medical marijuana or who uses the drug on a regular basis or even once in a while is likely to test positive whether they used the drug driving a cab just before a random test or not.

The argument that these tests are being used everywhere else in California is not convincing. There was a time when everyone had to swear a loyalty oath in order to get keep their jobs. A bad idea doesn't become good because everybody does it. As it is, these tests are designed to turn up false positives if the question is whether or not people were driving intoxicated.

I have started researching the subject and, on one web site, there appears to be argument that you can determine the THC levels in the blood and use these to tell whether or not the marijuana was 2nd hand smoke. Another site sugggested that they could tell the difference between recent marijuana usage and residual use. I intend to investigate this further and I hope that Taxi Sevices will do the same.

Unless or until there is such a test, marijuana should be left out of the equation except in the case of accidents or probable cause.

The only time I smoke weed these days is sporadically with a friend of mine who uses it medicinally to calm her anxiety. I'd hate to have to give up a friendship I value to keep my job.


  1. The hits keep coming..
    Do they test the SFMTA board of directors as their decisions affect the lives of millions of people a year. I think drug testing should be in the cards for them as well.

    Then they better add more immigrants to do this job cause they are about to lose half of their work force here.

  2. Wow this is one of the best blogsite that caught my attention same as the blog of taxi vieux fort.

  3. Just give the drug test prior to A card renewal. Then the driver can refrain from marijuana use 45 days before the test and he/she will be clean. It's a compromise, but charging someone for drug use weeks or months prior is, as you suggest, ridiculous. Pass this along to Chris.

  4. I'm guessing this policy continues for all cab drivers?..bummer I smoke when I'm off for pain...but i'm as good as a driver as you'll ever find =[

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