San Francisco, Oct 20 – In a victory for marijuana patients’ rights, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency voted to amend a new drug testing program for taxi drivers so as to excuse positive test results for marijuana given a physician’s recommendation or approval
The SFMTA was under pressure to approve a $4 million, multi-year drug testing program in order to conform with a 1996 state law that requires taxi drivers to be tested under federal DOT drug testing guidelines. San Frandisco has been the only city not in compliance with state law, having previously rejected a drug testing program some years ago when taxis were regulated by the Board of Supervisors instead of SFMTA.
San Francisco’s non-compliance became a hot issue this year in the debate over a bill in Sacramento (AB 24, Nazarian) that would force Uber and Lyft drivers to be drug tested like tax drivers. The taxi drivers strongly support regulating Uber and Lyft like themselves and have been embarassed by San Francisco’s non-compliance because Uber has cited it as a reason their drivers shouldn’t be tested.
Several board members expressed discomfort with testing for marijuana, especially in the case of medical users, given the long time that marijuana stays in the system. SFMTA staff were apologetic about the drug testing program, but said they had no choice but to comply with federal guidelines that disallow medical marijuana. In response, I testified that federal policy need not apply under state law, and California law specifically allows medical marijuana. The board toyed with the idea of excluding marijuana entirely from the testing program, but ended up amending the policy to specifically exempt medical use only. This will make San Francisco the first and only municipality in the state to allow medical marijuana in its drug testing program for taxi drivers.
California lauded the SFMTA’s decision as an important victory for patients’ rights. None of this detracts from the sad fact that the SFMTA felt compelled to waste $4 million on an ineffectual drug testing program that will do nothing to advance public safety. One more example of money down the toilet of urinalysis.
-Dale Gieringer, Cal NORML