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The Impacts of Marijuana Legalization on Trucking Industry

The Impacts of Marijuana Legalization on Trucking Industry

June 14, 2023
More than 100,000 drivers tested positive for marijuana and were removed from duty from 2020 through 2022.

Drivers and carriers are frustrated with current drug testing limitations, in particular the lack of a test for marijuana impairment, according to a recent report from the American Transportation Research Institute.

 Federal law requires CDL divers to pass a marijuana test at various stages including pre-employment, post-accident, randomly and in instances where there is reasonable suspicion of drug use. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse (DACH), more than half of all positive trucking industry drug tests are for marijuana metabolite. 

The DACH data also indicate that more than 100,000 drivers tested positive and were removed from duty from 2020 through 2022.

The report notes that the trend of a national shortage of drivers which is between 65,,000 and 80,000 in recent years, and the fact that many states now allow people to obtain marijuana for recreational purposes contributes is becoming an issue. 

"This difficult situation is coupled with a lack of research into several critical marijuana-related issues. Due in part to limited funding and constrained access to marijuana for research, the effects of marijuana impairment on activities such as driving are not fully understood. Additionally, it is too soon to calculate the relationship between legal marijuana and highway safety outcomes, " the report says.          

Federal Response

The report concludes that there are some solutions the government can take. The first is to continue with a federal policy recognizing marijuana as an illegal Schedule I drug. The second is a loosening of rules and possible removal of the drug from Schedule 1.

(The following sections are directly quoted from the report.)

Pathway One: Marijuana Remains a Federally Prohibited Schedule 1 Drug

Should the federal government maintain current marijuana laws, the trucking industry will continue to have thousands of drivers annually placed in prohibited status and will lose many others to occupations that do not test for marijuana use. Ultimately this puts pressure on the availability of CDL drivers.

That said, other labor-related complexities would be avoided if marijuana remains designated as a Schedule 1 drug. In particular, marijuana would continue to be recognized federally as a drug having no allowable medical use. As a result, carriers would not be required to make concessions to CDL drivers who wish to use the drug regularly for medical purposes. Additionally, carriers desiring a zero-tolerance policy for marijuana use could continue to do so without issue.

Finally, as more states legalize marijuana, conflicts between state and federal laws and jurisdictions will ostensibly increase issues for the trucking industry.

Pathway Two: Marijuana Rules Evolve Toward Federal Legalization

 It is possible, however, that federal marijuana rules will evolve toward legalization and ultimately marijuana will be removed from the federal Schedule 1 designation. Any shift toward federal legalization would likely ease pressure on the industry’s driver shortage.

But, similar to maintaining the Schedule 1 “status quo,” legalization also presents significant issues for the trucking industry. The central goal of industry drug testing efforts is highway safety. The current approach supports safety efforts but also results in inefficiencies when drivers that do not present a safety issue are removed from the industry.

To ensure that the trucking industry remains safe and unimpaired, there are several actions that must be taken before any federal efforts to legalize marijuana commence.

In the past decade legalized recreational marijuana has shifted from limited, novel legislation to a national reality. There are currently 23 states where recreational marijuana can be legally purchased and consumed, and approximately half of the U.S. population lives in those states. In all likelihood, more states will move in this direction since a majority of Americans (59%) support legalization.

While there is growing acceptance and availability of the drug in the U.S., there exist significant knowledge gaps regarding the relationship between marijuana use and public safety. The impacts of impairment on individual drivers and overall highway safety have yet to be adequately documented through research. Testing impaired individuals through a quantitative measurement – which has been key to combatting drunk driving – remains elusive in the case of marijuana. There is not even a definition or quantitative threshold for marijuana impairment.

Testing CDL drivers for drug use is a logical approach to support highway safety, and marijuana-impaired drivers should never operate heavy-duty trucks. That said, marijuana remains detectible for weeks, while alcohol and most recreational drugs are only detectible for a matter of days or even hours when using U.S. DOT-approved testing methods. This fact has led to the removal of many thousands of drivers from the industry based solely on past marijuana use.

In light of this, the association offers some solutions:

--Develop a nationally recognized marijuana impairment test and impairment standards

-- Protect a carrier’s choice to screen for marijuana

--Develop greater knowledge of marijuana’s impacts on highway safety through federal research and data collection

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