Could a “marijuana breathalyzer” help keep drivers employed?

July 18, 2023

Research suggests that widespread marijuana legalization is taking thousands of drivers out of the transport profession due to federal drug testing standards. Driving this trend is the fact that current drug tests are unable to effectively gauge a user’s current level of intoxication. This means drivers who use cannabis off the clock are still in jeopardy of losing their jobs. In an era in which the pool of available drivers is already in decline, better testing could help to secure a stronger supply chain as legal pot spreads nationwide.

Adopting saliva tests that can be administered in a roadside situation could be marijuana’s answer to the breathalyzer. Like this widely-accepted test for alcohol impairment, saliva swabs can give a more accurate picture of a driver’s level of impairment in real time. And just like the breathalyzer, these tests can be used in conjunction with blood testing to give a more complete picture of the subject’s substance use.

“You can be stone sober and be pulled over for driving erratically…and still have to go take a blood test,” says Josh Michelin, Logistics Manager for Litehouse Foods. “The breathalyzer is the catalyst to get the blood test. It’s very rare for the breathalyzer to be the end all be all.”

Does the current system for alcohol testing provide a roadmap to address marijuana use on our roads? Join the conversation in the latest episode of the Stay In Your Lane Podcast.

Swab testing that can accurately gauge impairment will be a useful tool for keeping truckers employed. Still, some may balk at the idea of highways coast to coast filled with drivers who are free to use marijuana with relatively few consequences.

“No drug test is going to stop somebody from using a substance that’s going to impair them,” Michelin argues. “It’s not an open gate to operate under the influence. It’s a mechanism to prove a level of sobriety.”

Again, the widespread availability of alcohol as an intoxicant sets the standard for marijuana use. Individuals choose to drive under the influence of alcohol despite the consequences and widespread availability of testing mechanisms. The decision to avoid cannabis use before driving comes down to personal responsibility.

Widespread testing for active impairment will still take drivers out of the profession. The hope is that it would better address problem users versus unfairly targeting those who may use marijuana in their free time.

“If they get a test that you can do on the road that can show impairment, you want that guy off the road no matter what he’s taking,” says Joe Lombardo, President of Ege Avenue Associates. “But at the end of the day, more testing means less drivers.”

Our nation’s testing mechanisms aren’t the only systems in need of an overhaul in the age of legal pot. Insurance companies must adapt to address changing laws and attitudes around marijuana.

“I’ve heard nothing about it,” says Billy Barstow of Barstow Transportation on the topic of marijuana in the insurance context. “When I looked over my policy, when we talked renewal, there was no conversation about it whatsoever. I’m sure if you get drivers coming up hot on drug tests on the road, that will change.”

Even if a federally accepted mechanism for roadside marijuana testing is established, there’s no guarantee that insurance companies will accept it.

“There’s going to be some sticking points with insurance companies and there’s going to be some sticking points with employers, because you have to agree to issue that test,” says Michelin.

Even with better testing methods in place, issues surrounding marijuana use in trucking remain at the forefront. More accurate swab tests for cannabis still can’t match the efficacy of the breathalyzer for alcohol in a field setting. Meanwhile, the perception of marijuana as a gateway drug for other harder substances remains an insurmountable hurdle for some within the industry.

Whatever the popular attitude may be regarding marijuana, it’s clear that legal weed is here to stay. The transport industry must adapt to meet the tide of legalization or face dire consequences from a manpower standpoint. For all the latest on this and other important industry topics, subscribe to the Stay In Your Lane Podcast from Triple T Transport.

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