More Than 70,000 Truckers Have Been Sidelined For Weed Use Since 2020
But many believe the drug testing policy is unreliable and unfair.
If you live in a legal marijuana state and your doctor prescribes medical marijuana, you can use cannabis without fear of legal ramifications. Unless your employer tests for cannabis as part of its drug screening policy.
That's the unfortunate situation for truckers in 2022.
According to the Department of Transportation, 70,872 truckers have tested positive for marijuana use since 2020. And in just the first three months of 2022, 10,276 truckers have failed drug tests because of marijuana use.
And the situation seems to be getting worse. Despite complaints from the trucking industry about losing drivers and concerns about its impact on supply chain problems, more truckers have been sidelined in recent months.
The Inaccuracy of Marijuana Tests
Many in the trucking industry have expressed concern over the inaccuracy of marijuana testing. Drug tests can detect THC, the psychoactive chemical ingredient in cannabis, many days after someone uses cannabis. In some cases, a positive result can happen even weeks after use. Needless to say, any effects a truck driver might have felt wore off long before the test was taken.
The unreliable nature of testing led U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, a Democrat from Oregon, to ask Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg earlier this year for changes in DOT policy toward cannabis use. While noting no one wants impaired drivers on the road, Blumenauer pointed out that the current level of sophistication in drug tests is lacking.
However, no policy change has occurred. Truckers continue to work in the grey area created between state laws that legalize marijuana and federal law that lists it as a Schedule I illegal drug. The DOT handbook on alcohol and drug testing states that "while states may allow medical use of marijuana, federal laws and policy do not recognize any legitimate medical use of marijuana. Even if a state allows the use of marijuana, DOT regulations treat its use as the same as the use of any other illicit drug."
The Situation Appears to be Getting Worse
Attention on the issue has not changed the current trend, with drug tests resulting in removal of more truck drivers from the road. The 10,276 truckers who tested positive in the first three months of 2022 is a 32.6 percent increase over the 7,750 violations over the same time period in 2021.
Drivers also have to go through a series of steps to get back on the road, a situation that can take months. Many have decided not to return at all. DOT numbers show that about 67,368 of the 119,113 truckers taken off the road for failing a drug test have not even entered the "return to work" program.
Meanwhile, the American Trucking Association reports that the truck shortage is now at 80,000 drivers and could reach 160,000 by 2030. Issues driving the shortage include early retirements during the pandemic and an increased demand for freight transportation services.