TTC Testing Update: Half of positives are for cannabis

Dec 5, 2017

Since beginning its controversial drug and alcohol testing policy in May of this year, 2% of the TTC’s employees have tested positive, and more than half of the twenty two employees who tested positive six months ago for drugs or alcohol have tested positive for marijuana. Of the 1,269 employees, five failed the test due to alcohol, seventeen tested positive for drugs, eighteen of the twenty five employees who either tested positive for drugs or alcohol or refused to do the test were fired, and five workers have been suspended, with two cases awaiting final decision.

And while a 2% positive test result doesn’t seem high, because of the safety-sensitive nature of the work at the TTC, including bus and subway operation, maintenance work, supervision, management and executive roles, the TTC’s CEO Andy Byford says it is imperative that this number be reduced.

Since its advent, mandatory drug testing in the workplace has been hotly contested across the country and opposed by worker unions and employees as an infringement on privacy rights. With the 2018 legalization of marijuana looming, employers and employees have already started to explore its impact on the workplace.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113, which represents TTC workers, continues to fight the mandatory policy in arbitration. ATU’s president Frank Grimaldi sees drug and alcohol testing as an “infringement on what you do on your free time,” and states,

“If someone was to smoke a joint on Friday night, and come to work on Monday morning I’m certain the person is not impaired. And yet you could test positive for THC.” – Frank Grimaldi, Local 113

THC is the main psychoactive substance found in marijuana, and must be in quantities higher than ten nanograms in a sample of saliva for a person to fail a drug test.

Dr. Robert Mann, a scientist studying the effects of smoking cannabis and driving at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), thinks the ten nanogram limit provides a conservative threshold that works toward preventing false positive results.

“If an occasional user smoked a cannabis joint on a Saturday night, I don’t think they’d be anywhere near 10 nanograms per millilitre on a Monday morning.” – Dr. Mann, CAMH

According to research, those who use cannabis can become impaired when two-to-five nanograms of THC is present in a millilitre of blood, which, according to Dr. Mann, is roughly equivalent to 0.05 to 0.08 blood alcohol content. Users of cannabis are advised to wait between four to six hours after partaking before operating a vehicle.

Part of 2018’s marijuana legislation includes policies for driving under the influence of cannabis, and will be using a defined range of present THC to determine a driver’s level of impairment. A driver who is found to have at least two nanograms but less than five nanograms of THC per millilitre of blood could face a fine of up to $1,000, while a driver with more than five nanograms of THC will be fined and could face jail time.

Byford has said he’s not interested in what people do on the weekends, but is concerned about how an employee’s impairment affects public safety, stating that the drug test “is designed to test for impairment at the point of commencing duty, or at the point of the test,” and “is based on scientific advice that we’ve taken.”

While it’s currently the only Canadian transit service to mandate random drug and alcohol testing, the TTC could soon be joined by Metrolinx, which currently runs GO Transit and the Union-Pearson Express, as it has recently formed a committee to devise policies to determine employee impairment that will potentially include mandatory random drug testing.