In 1996 Calfornia voters passed CA Prop 215, the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, allowing for the medical use of marijuana. Californians from all walks of life now turn to cannabis instead of much more serious, often addicting, medications. When the SFTWA became aware that the MTA was planning on implementing a drug and alcohol testing program for SF taxi drivers that had no exception for medical marijuana we went to work for your rights. We sent out informational announcements, passed out flyer's, and wrote letters to the MTA Board of Directors. We also contacted NORML who joined the fight.
The hearing on the drug testing program was held on Tuesday 10/20/15. The SFTWA was there speaking on your behalf, along with NORML as well as a number of drivers who got up and spoke. In the end, the MTA Board of Directors approved the drug testing program with a very important exception, MEDICAL MARIJUANA! This is a historic win for San Francisco Taxi Drivers!! The MTA Board voted to permit medical marijuana use despite a concern that San Francisco may not be in full compliance with state law.
TO BE CLEAR: The testing WILL detect marijuana use. However, as long as the driver has a legal Medical Marijuana Card, which is dated PRIOR to the test, they will pass. Unless they also test positive for another substance for which they do not have a valid, legal, prescription.
The state drug testing law has been on the books for 19 years, and there is no exception for medical marijuana, but San Francisco never previously implemented it the law. SFTWA opposed implementation because testing for marijuana is highly imprecise, and because Uber and Lyft drivers are not subject to testing. While we were not able to stop the program from going forward, the exemption for medical marijuana wouldn’t have been approved without strong driver involvement.
Drug testing is expected to begin around the start of next year. Tests will be conducted for new drivers, upon A-card renewal, in case of a serious accident and on “reasonable suspicion” of drug or alcohol use. Besides marijuana, the drugs to be tested for include amphetamines, opiates (including heroin), PCP and cocaine. A positive test will mean an automatic suspension and enrollment in a drug rehabilitation program. A driver who tests positive cannot return to service until completing the program and testing negative. A positive test could also put the driver’s job in jeopardy.
The MTA will pay the cost of new driver and annual renewal testing. Cab companies are responsible for reasonable suspicion and after-accident testing. Cab drivers who test positive will be on the hook for rehab program costs and retesting.
As part of the same package of legislation, the Board also approved lowering the driving requirement for obtaining a medallion from four out of the last five years to one year. Hundreds of medallion holders have applied to sell, and some have been waiting for over a year. The MTA hopes the lower requirement will attract more buyers.
Thank you to all of the drivers who came to the hearing and stood up for our rights. The results prove that drivers joining together can make a difference.
For those who joined SFTWA when we started last year, the time has come to renew your membership. For those who have not yet joined, there is no better time than now. Our strength is in numbers. If you want to see things change, join us!