Coast Guard Sets Random Drug Testing Rate


March 2013


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The U.S. Coast Guard in January announced its minimum random drug testing rate for the current year. According to the Federal Register, the Coast Guard has set the minimum random drug testing rate at 25 percent of covered crew members for calendar year 2013. This rate went into effect Jan.1, 2013 and will remain in force through Dec. 31, 2013.


The Coast Guard annually establishes the minimum drug testing rate for the upcoming year. The agency does so in part to encourage employers to maintain drug-free workplaces with the incentive of a reduced testing rate (and associated costs).


The random testing rate previously has been 50 percent for every year through 2012. In accordance with Department of Homeland Security guidance, however, the U.S. Coast Guard Commandant is authorized to lower this rate to 25 percent if, for two consecutive years the positive drug test rate is less than 1 percent.


Available data indicates that the positive rate for random drug tests was 0.77 percent in 2011 and 0.74 percent in 2010. The Coast Guard commended marine employers and mariners for their efforts to create a drug-free workplace.


In an indirectly related development, voters in Colorado and Washington on Election Day passed landmark referendums legalizing marijuana for recreational use.


Washington will allow those at least 21 years old to buy as much as one ounce (28 grams) of marijuana from a licensed retailer. Colorado’s measure allows possession of an ounce, and permits growing as many as six plants in private, secure areas. By legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, the two states became the first in the nation to decriminalize the practice.


The drug, however, is still banned under federal law, and the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) wasted little time in disseminating this message to all stakeholders. In a notice of compliance circulated Dec. 3 to agencies under DOT jurisdiction, Jim Swart made clear his agency’s stance on the states’ actions and their impact on individuals who work for entities under DOT oversight. Swart is DOT’s director, Office of the Secretary of Transportation, Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance.


“We have had several inquiries about whether these state initiatives will have an impact upon the Department of Transportation’s longstanding regulation about the use of marijuana by safety-sensitive transportation employees…,” Swart said in the notice. “We want to make it perfectly clear that the state initiatives will have no bearing on the Department of Transportation’s regulated drug testing program. The Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation-49 CFR Part 40 does not authorize the use of Schedule 1 drugs, including marijuana, for any reason.


“Therefore, Medical Review Officers (MROs) will not verify a drug test as negative based upon learning that the employee used recreational marijuana when states have passed recreational marijuana initiatives.” The notice also restated DOT’s policy that an MRO will not verify a drug test as negative based on information that a physician recommended that the employee use medical marijuana when states have passed medical marijuana laws. “It is important to note that marijuana remains a drug listed in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substance Act,” the correspondence said. “It remains unacceptable for any safety-sensitive employee subject to drug testing under the Department of Transportation’s drug testing regulations to use marijuana.”



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