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US Truckers Rally for Overhaul in Marijuana Testing as Industry Faces Supply Chain Strain

 US Truckers Rally for Overhaul in Marijuana Testing
Photo Source: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

A recent survey conducted by the American Transportation Research Institute reveals that approximately two-thirds of US truck drivers and their carriers are advocating for changes in federal marijuana testing regulations. 

According to the data, 70% of truck drivers and 62% of motor carrier representatives believe that adjustments to federal drug policy rules are necessary, especially in light of state-level legalization. 

The survey indicates that 65% of respondents agree that marijuana impairment testing should replace the current practice of marijuana use testing.

Presently, 41% of US truck drivers reside in jurisdictions where the adult use of marijuana is legal. 

Federal law mandates pre-employment and random marijuana urinalysis testing for commercially licensed drivers, detecting the non-psychoactive carboxy-THC metabolite. This metabolite can remain detectable for weeks or months after exposure, despite any potential effects having worn off, Frank Musshoff and Burkhard Madea revealed in their study

Statistics from the Canadian Journal of Public Health suggest that cannabis consumption during off-hours doesn't pose a greater risk of occupational injury compared to abstaining from marijuana. 

Since 2020, over 100,000 truck drivers have tested positive for past marijuana exposure, with pre-employment screening constituting the majority of positive tests. 

However, only about one-quarter of those with drug test failures have completed the 'return to work' program, contributing to driver shortages and supply chain issues.

The survey's authors acknowledge that existing federal testing regulations are prompting significant numbers of truck drivers to leave the industry and deterring new entrants. 

They emphasize that the federal prohibition of marijuana use by commercial driver's license (CDL) holders acts as a disincentive for drivers to stay in the industry.

“The federal prohibition of marijuana use by CDL holders has been highlighted as a potential disincentive for drivers to stay in the industry. … Marijuana [also] contributes to a higher percentage of positive drug tests in the pre-employment category than in the overall testing data – on average 71.1 percent of positive drug tests are positive for marijuana. Therefore, past use of marijuana – which may have been up to 30 days prior to the test – is filtering out a significant number of potential truck drivers from the industry,” the authors concluded. 

In 2022, Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) urged the Transportation Department to amend policies penalizing CDL holders who consume cannabis while off duty, emphasizing the zero-tolerance policy's impact on unimpaired drivers. 

“[Y]our department’s zero-tolerance policy sweeps up drivers who were unimpaired, drivers who have not used cannabis for weeks or even months. … Penalizing safe drivers who comply with state cannabis laws harms both the drivers and the supply chains they support.”

Last March, the US Department of Transportation introduced a new rule allowing commercially licensed drivers the option of oral fluid testing as an alternative to urinalysis.

NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) argues against presuming that THC or its metabolites' detection is evidence of impairment. NORML's Deputy Director, Paul Armentano, contends that urine screens for past cannabis exposure are invasive and ineffective. He suggests adopting performance-based tests like DRUID or Predictive Safety’s AlertMeter instead.

 “Requiring would-be hires and employees to undergo urine screens for past cannabis exposure are invasive and ineffective. They neither identify workers who may be under the influence nor contribute to a safe work environment. … Those who consume alcohol legally and responsibly while away from their jobs aren’t punished by their employers unless their work performance is adversely impacted. Those who legally consume cannabis should be held to a similar standard.” Armentano said.

Recent developments include Michigan halting pre-employment marijuana screens for most public employees in non-safety-sensitive positions. 

Nevada, Washington, the District of Columbia, California, Connecticut, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island have also amended laws to prevent job termination solely based on a positive THC metabolite drug test.

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