Trucking companies have long struggled to hire drivers. But in recent years, the driver shortage has actually endangered the viability of the industry. The lack of an estimated 65,000 drivers has made cross-country logistics challenging and, according to drivers themselves, outdated marijuana laws are a big part of the problem. They say it is time to change those laws.
A research project from the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) adds credence to truck driver claims. According to their report, “More than half of all positive trucking industry drug tests are for marijuana metabolite.” The issue is this: marijuana metabolites can stay in the system for weeks following consumption. Just because a driver tests positive doesn’t mean he or she is intoxicated.
Current Federal Marijuana Standards
As you probably know, marijuana remains illegal under federal law. There are no exceptions for medical consumption among truck drivers regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT).
Federal standards dictate that interstate truckers are subject to federal, rather than state, regulation. That is because the U.S. Constitution gives control of interstate commerce to the federal government. And because marijuana is still a Schedule I controlled substance, interstate truck drivers are not allowed to consume it at all.
Things are technically different at the state level. If you had a logistics company whose drivers never left the state, those drivers would not be subject to DOT regulations. As long as their employer chose to not test for marijuana, they could use it off the job. They could still not come to work intoxicated, though.
The Medical Cannabis Conundrum
The majority of truck drivers surveyed by the ATRI believe that cannabis laws and testing policies should be relaxed. Just over 66% think marijuana should be made legal at the federal level. Whether truck drivers are interested in recreational or medical consumption, they believe they should have the right to use.
Medical cannabis creates a conundrum for both state and federal lawmakers. When used medically, should cannabis be any different than other prescription medications? Many would argue no.
Utahmarijuana.org medical professionals say that chronic pain is the chief complaint listed by medical cannabis card applicants. Imagine a truck driver whose doctor recommends medical cannabis to manage back pain. If the truck driver agrees, he puts his job in jeopardy.
Even worse, his job could be jeopardized without ever using federally banned THC. Maybe he uses a CBD product. CBD is legal, but drug tests do not distinguish between it and THC. Drug tests only look for cannabinoid metabolites. A driver testing positive could insist he is only using CBD. But there is no way to prove it.
Contributing to the Shortage
It turns out that America’s truck drivers also believe that outdated federal marijuana regulations are contributing to the driver shortage. They maintain that people simply are not undergoing driver training or applying for jobs because they want to consume marijuana either medically or recreationally. So instead of taking their chances, they look for some other line of work.
If that’s true, relaxing testing requirements could help. Truck drivers think there is a better way. They think it’s time for the federal government to come up with more accurate ways to test for intoxication, thereby allowing drivers to use cannabis off the job.
There are rumors that changes to drug testing policies are on the way. Time will tell what those changes ultimately look like. In the meantime, the trucking industry is facing a severe driver shortage that looks to get worse before it gets better. It is very possible that testing for marijuana is making the problem worse.