legal drug use in the workplace
One underwriter’s observations comparing state legalization of marijuana against the need for unimpaired drivers

The push to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control through more vaccinations has allowed the energy industry to once again have trade shows. Now, folks can finally see and touch what is new. For me, the trade-show season opened in September 2021 in San Diego, California, with the Pacific Fuels and Convenience Summit. Much to my surprise, when we registered, there was a huge banner over the door advertising a prominent recreational drug company in California.

They provided each attendee with a goody bag containing free samples; had fancy T-shirts in all sizes as gifts; and had another goody bag with free samples sent to our rooms. The company was a major sponsor of the trade show. In October of 2021, we attended the Colorado Propane Gas Board Meeting in Colorado Springs.

This show allowed our team to fly into Denver and visit customers and propane marketers all over the state. What we saw and heard at the board meeting surprised us.


The passage of legislation that allowed for legalizing certain drugs in Colorado is rapidly changing their culture. Traveling through southern Colorado, we visited a marketer who suggested we drive through downtown Trinidad, a farming and ranching town just over the state line from New Mexico. We drove past one complete block of buildings on both sides of the street, all of which sold legal drugs.

Another marketer located southeast of Denver asked me a loaded question: “Did you happen to notice all of the electronic gates at the houses you drove past?” I answered yes.

She went on to say that the crime rate has increased dramatically in recent months. She said people are afraid to leave their houses in the rural areas unguarded and have installed electronic gates that require a pass code.

This propane company gets more than 30 calls a day from customers who need propane, but are unwilling to give out their code to open the gate on their property and give access to the bobtail driver to fill the tank. They want to know an exact time the driver will arrive at their house, and they want the driver to call the homeowner upon arrival so they can open the gate.

The problem the marketer faces is that they can only give an approximate time that the bobtail driver will arrive. This results in the driver often arriving with no one home to open the gate. After waiting, the driver will go on to the next stop, and then be forced to return. With the shortage of skilled drivers and laborers, the homeowner’s safety feature is adding additional cost for the propane company, which is subsequently forced to add a delivery charge. Ultimately, the gate, intended for safety, also drives up the cost of fuel for the consumer.

After some consideration, I came to the same conclusion that the marketer had struggled with when thinking about the locked gate situation. Trying to balance the safety needs of customers with a locked gate and the needs of the marketer’s additional cost for delayed access to the tank could only be balanced with a delivery charge.

The legalization of drugs in many states has also resulted in a scarcity of drivers who can pass a random drug test. This is one of several factors that has led to an acute shortage of bobtail and transport drivers in every state.

One marketer told me he had interviewed and drug-tested 32 drivers. Not one could pass the drug test. Another asked if he could employ a driver who had a medical release to use marijuana for a chronic back injury. My answer to him was a resounding no — with no exceptions. The other effect that drugs are having on the propane industry is rising insurance rates, as the following accident reported by the National Law Journal points out:

“A 22-year-old man, driving his pickup truck with his father beside him in the passenger seat, crossed through an intersection in northern Illinois. The driver of another pickup truck failed to heed the intersection’s stop sign. He struck the pickup at 50 miles per hour, causing both trucks to roll over. The father and son were pronounced dead at the scene. The operator of the vehicle that ran the stop sign was found to be driving under the influence of marijuana and was charged with reckless homicide. The deceased’s family sued him and his employer for $9 million.”

The bottom line for every propane marketer in every state is that federal law trumps state laws when it comes to your employees using drugs. It is still illegal and should clearly be stated in every marketer’s employee handbook.

Frank Thompson is a chartered property and casualty underwriter based in Phoenix, Arizona. He is the owner of PT Risk Management, an independent insurance company specializing in writing propane and petroleum risk policies throughout the U.S.


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