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Cannabis Drug Testing Partial Cause for U.S. Truck Driver Shortage

In October 2021 the American Trucking Association issued a statement citing the shortage of over 80,000 drivers as partially due to retiring veterans who drove and lower wages. This shortage can also be attributed to the legalization of marijuana for adult consumption and positive cannabis testing by drivers.

According to a U.S. Department of Transportation report, 10 276 truck drivers were positive for THC as of April 1, 2022. Although this number is significantly lower than the 31,085 violations of 2021 or 29,511 violations for 2020, it still represents a substantial decrease. The highest number of drivers with positive tests for drugs such as cannabis is found to be driving. However, this data also contains data on drivers who have tested positive for methamphetamines, cocaine and oxymorphone.

This is particularly true for drivers who drink, as many travel through several states and have to navigate legalization issues.

An article on StackerThe Department of Transportation Handbook: A Compliance Guide Truck Drivers (DOT) confirms that marijuana is federally illegal. “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 DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) increased drug testing rates from 25% to 50% two years ago. “The new minimum annual percentage rate for random drug testing will be effective January 1, 2020. This change reflects the increased positive test rate and will result in an estimated $50 to $70 million increase in costs to the industry by requiring that more drivers be tested.” However, it also notes that random alcohol testing remained at 10%.

Also, the FMCSA states that medical marijuana is not permitted with any exceptions. “Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), a person is not physically qualified to drive a CMV if he or she uses any Schedule I controlled substance such as marijuana,” it states. “Accordingly, a driver may not use marijuana even if is recommended by a licensed medical practitioner.”

Five risk factors for truck-long-haul truck drivers are identified by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These include smoking, obesity, low physical activity and high blood pressure. These common workplace problems can often be addressed with cannabis medical marijuana. One study in December 2015 showed that medical cannabis was able to prevent mice from becoming obese. Some research has shown that cannabis may be able to treat nicotine addiction. A February study even showed that cannabis could lower hypertension.

A White House Fact Sheet from April states that 72% of all products in America are delivered by trucking. The White House has a plan for expanding trucking jobs and to help trucking companies. “Trucking costs grew more than 20 percent last year as a surge in demand for goods caused by the pandemic confronted a decline in trucking employment that preceded the pandemic,” the Fact Sheet states. “The low supply of drivers is driven by high turnover and low job quality. Turnover in trucking routinely averages 90 percent for some carriers and drivers spend about 40 percent of their workday waiting to load and unload goods—hours that are typically unpaid.”

While the White House’s focus on bettering the work lives of truckers across the country is a step in the right direction, there is a need to alter regulations to allow truckers to use cannabis. It is possible to connect veterans to trucking jobs. However, given the present situation of veterans who are seeking medical cannabis for conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it could be a hurdle that they need to overcome.