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Marijuana among hot topics in trucking industry

PEORIA, Ill. — He spoke before the widespread outbreak of coronavirus and even then, Don Schaefer, executive vice president of the Mid-West Truckers Association, said there were some pressing issues for the trucking industry.

Schaefer addressed regulation and deregulation both as concerns facing the industry for different reasons.

Schaefer likely was feeling justified. In January, state Sen. Martin Sandoval, D-Cicero, resigned before pleading guilty to accepting some $250,000 in bribes from SafeSpeed LLC, a red light camera vendor, and failing to pay taxes on the money.

The federal probe into the state’s red light cameras saw the resignations of several suburban mayors and Chicago transportation officials. Schaefer has decried the use of the cameras, which can be especially punitive for semi drivers due to the size of their vehicles, around the state.

From red light cameras to marijuana, Schaefer sat down and talked to us about hot topics in the trucking industry.

How are you feeling about the federal corruption probe into the red light cameras in Illinois? Justified?

“We’ve been chasing that for years. From the very beginning, we opposed them, we opposed them, we opposed them. The coziness of the entire thing has been disgusting and then for these legislators to testify in committee and say ‘well, it’s about safety.’

“I testified in committee I don’t know how many times. In the early days, when they were starting with the red light cameras, I said this is all a shakedown — but no one listened.”

What are some of the top priorities that the industry and your members are discussing?

“Regulation and deregulation is the best way to put it.”

Let’s talk about regulation first. What’s the latest?

“We’re dealing with all the new requirements that FMCSA has put down on the industry. We get into the drug and alcohol clearinghouse and dealing with a lot of those types of issues.”

You mentioned deregulation, which the industry typically likes, no?

“Let’s talk deregulation, or decriminalization is the best way to put it, and the challenges that the industry faces with recreational marijuana. All of a sudden, you’ve got something that’s been a controlled substance that people are now free to use — but not for the trucking industry.

“The challenge there is to avoid the temptation and to be able to find qualified potential drivers who aren’t marijuana users as a result of the change in the law.”

It’s still a Schedule 1 drug, which means that truckers can’t use it, but does the fact that marijuana is legal in some states further narrow the pool for drivers — and for workers in those U.S. DOT “safety sensitive” jobs?

“Oh, sure. You’ve got people who are like ‘I can go out and smoke a joint and do what I want.’ Then they decide they want to work as a truck driver and they go and apply.

“The problem is how long has it been since you used it? The other issue is the guy who’s been a habitual user of marijuana comes in to apply and finds out, hey, I can’t use it if I want to be a truck driver.”

Any concerns at the state government level?

“The big thing is what is going to happen with this constitutional amendment on the progressive income tax. They are saying right now that only the wealthiest will pay, but the legislators may have a change of mind and say, no, we’re going to drop that and they can do that without anyone else having input in it. It could be catastrophic.”

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