Fontana: Trucking’s marijuana dilemma

Semi Truck

By: Gino Fontana

With increased state legalization, a large percentage of drivers who tested positive for cannabis have not completed the return to duty process. How can trucking keep from hemorrhaging drivers while still abiding by federal laws that prohibit marijuana?

The legalization of marijuana—for medical or recreational use—by some states, is impacting the trucking industry. So much so that earlier this year the American Transportation Research Institute issued a report on the subject, Impacts of Marijuana Legalization On The Trucking Industry.

In addition to state and federal prohibitions against marijuana, some fleets also have drug policies that prohibit the use of marijuana and other substances by drivers and other employees.

How bad is the problem? According to the Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse’s June 2023 statistics, positive drug tests accounted for 82% of the total number of violations. By a wide margin, marijuana leads the list of drug violations. As you are likely aware, while marijuana is legal in many states, it is still considered a Schedule 1 illegal substance by the federal government.

However, unlike alcohol, it can be difficult to define exactly what is meant by impairment when it comes to marijuana. Marijuana can show up in a drug screening test for many days after the person smoked/ingested it. This just shows that the person used marijuana but does not indicate if the person is impaired.

Alarmingly, huge percentages of drivers who are testing positive for drugs or alcohol have not completed the return to duty process. In effect, the trucking industry is losing drivers since they cannot return to work without completing this process, which includes a substance-abuse professional signing off on the fact that the process was completed.

I don’t have a definitive answer about how we should handle the positive tests for marijuana, but I think something needs to change. And I am not alone in thinking this. ATRI surveyed both carriers and drivers about federal drug testing policies. Nearly two-thirds of carriers and close to 70% of drivers believe there needs to be a change in the federal drug policy given the legalization of marijuana in many states.

Of course, no one in the trucking industry wants to see unsafe or impaired drivers on the road. One suggestion from the ATRI report was to develop a nationally recognized marijuana impairment test and impairment standards, just like we currently have for alcohol.

I know, given the fact that THC, the chemical that gets you “high” from using marijuana, can stay in your system for a long time, that it will be a challenge to develop a test for impairment and impairment standards. However, the trucking industry has faced challenges before, so I am confident that bright minds in trucking will solve this problem too.

For now, fleets have to abide by the laws, and I suggest we rely on substance abuse professionals to help us navigate this issue to get drivers back on the road safely by helping us evaluate who might have simply made a bad decision one evening and who has a serious substance abuse issue.

Fontana (2023). Article retrieved from Fleet Owner.


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