As the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s (FMCSA) Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse continues to develop, so does the need for further education regarding marijuana usage in the trucking industry. According to the FMCSA, in 2022, 40,916 professional truck drivers tested positive for THC—an increase of 32 percent over 2021 statistics. Since the inception of the Clearinghouse, over 100,000 commercial drivers have tested positive for marijuana/THC. These numbers are the result of countless factors, but certainly one of the biggest contributors is the evolution of the legalization of marijuana across the U.S. As of 2022, 38 states have passed laws allowing medical marijuana use, and 21 states have legalized recreational use.
How does the legalization of marijuana affect regulations on commercial truck driving? As of right now, it doesn’t. Regardless of the state in which a driver is stationed and operating, marijuana usage is banned for all drivers with a commercial driver’s license (CDL). Additionally, while several states and local governments may have passed legislation that prohibits employers from drug testing employees, testing programs regulated by the Department of Transportation (DOT) do not fall under those new laws.
Dan Horvath, Vice President of Safety Policy for the American Trucking Associations (ATA), recently told Transport Topics, “Unfortunately, the number of marijuana positives in the Clearinghouse continues to trend in the wrong direction. When you take into account legalization efforts across the country, coupled with misinformation about when marijuana use is legal or not, I’m not at all surprised. The simple fact is not a thing has changed with regard to this DOT-regulated industry—specifically CDL holders.”
According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, after alcohol, marijuana is the most common substance linked to drugged driving. Additionally, 0.8 percent of commercial drivers have used some type of illegal substance other than alcohol while on the road. These numbers are certainly alarming, and what’s more, they’re increasing every year.
What can companies do to help combat the rise of these numbers? Education is the key. Employers must establish and adequately communicate their drug-free workplace policies and provide regular communications reiterating the importance of remaining drug-free and educated on the effects of drug use. Additionally, companies must educate employees on how drug testing works, what the DOT tests for, protocols and procedures for positive tests, and how individuals may still test positive for THC, even if they have not used marijuana.
Currently, if an employee tests positive for any percentage of THC, this results in a positive (failed) drug test. This is important to note as the use of CBD increases in popularity. Whether used topically, inhaled, or ingested, CBD usage can result in a positive THC test. Most states require a THC level of less than 3 percent in CBD products. However, CBD regulations are still evolving, and many CBD products are distributed without extensive testing. Additionally, even if someone uses a CBD product that does fall within regulations, that miniscule amount of THC can still be detected in a drug screening. It is extremely important that drivers understand this before using what they assume is a harmless CBD product.
Many argue that drivers who choose to use marijuana on their off time in a state in which marijuana is legal should be able to do so. However, while the effects of marijuana may be most noticeable within a few hours of consumption, studies have shown marijuana-induced impairments can last anywhere from 36-48 hours, and THC can remain in a person’s blood for up to a month. One reason the DOT is so strict about drug testing is because, aside from alcohol, there is no field sobriety test to identify drivers who are actively under the influence of a controlled substance. While officers are trained to identify the signs of marijuana—dilated pupils, red eyes, slowed response rates, short term memory issues, etc.—they cannot prove a driver is or isn’t under the influence without taking them to a facility for a blood test. Therefore, until a proven method of detecting active THC in a driver’s blood system is approved and passes federal legislation, any level of THC found in the blood system will result in a failed test.
In summary, when it comes to marijuana use in the transportation industry:
- Any level of THC found will result in a positive test.
- Regardless of individual state laws on marijuana use, no marijuana use is allowed for employees in DOT-regulated industries in safety-sensitive positions, such as professional drivers, technicians, and warehouse employees.
- Using legal over-the-counter CBD products may still cause a person to fail a THC drug test.
- As of January 2020, carriers are required to report positive test results and refusals to test to the FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse.
Ruan is committed to the safety of our team members and strives to educate individuals on the effects of driving under the influence and how illegal substances can affect both their professional and personal lives. Visit our Driver Safety page to learn more about Ruan’s safety team and how they work with operations and drivers to promote our drug-free workplace.