Is recreational pot killing the trucking industry?
July 11, 2023
The legalization of marijuana for recreational use has been met with enthusiasm by voters across the country. 23 states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis use by adults, with 38 total states allowing medicinal use. This shift toward legalization has created lucrative new business opportunities in the emerging legal pot industry. It has also introduced complications into our nation’s supply chain. Specifically, there is evidence that the current patchwork approach to marijuana legislation is having a detrimental effect on pool of available truck drivers.
While marijuana is now legal in states across the country, it remains a Schedule 1 drug at the Federal level—which is to say, illegal, with no accepted medicinal use. This puts truckers who enjoy recreational pot in their free time in a difficult position, as current drug tests are unable to differentiate between active impairment and recent, off-the-clock use.
According to a report from the American Transportation Research Institute, current drug screening practices combined with marijuana’s continued Schedule 1 status are removing thousands of drivers from the workforce each year. To remedy the situation, the ATRI outlines two suggested pathways the federal government can take in response to the legalization movement: maintain Schedule 1 status and lose thousands of potential drivers each year, or remove the status and work to create a nationally recognized test for marijuana impairment.
What can the federal government do to mitigate the impact of recreational marijuana laws on the transport industry? Join the debate in the latest episode of the Stay In Your Lane Podcast.
In order for legalization to move forward at the federal level, establishing safety on our nation’s roadways must be a top priority. Saliva tests that can more accurately gauge marijuana impairment could serve as an equivalent to the breathalyzer test for alcohol.
“Saliva testing is a little vague on the timeline, but it’s still more of a proximity test relative to when use occurred,” says Josh Michelin, Logistics Manager at Litehouse Foods. “If they can get more of a firm, realistic timeline for usage, it probably propels [legalization] forward a lot quicker.”
As a federally regulated industry, the legal status of cannabis from state to state is irrelevant in the transport field. Truckers are subject to federal law, meaning any and all marijuana use is still 100% illegal. This conflict with increasingly lax social attitudes toward pot is at the heart of the growing problem for many drivers. As more states legalize pot, testing for THC is also on the rise.
“In 2022, they performed twice as many drug screenings than in the year before,” says Thomas Kern, Transportation Attorney and Partner at the law firm Walter Haverfield. “Obviously, if you set more traps…”
In Kern’s view, truckers who indulge in recreational cannabis are caught in the conflict between federal and state laws. While recreational states have negotiated a reprieve from federal enforcement, no such leeway exists for individual users.
Even those who don’t partake of marijuana products can find themselves in trouble under the current system. Hemp-derived CBD products are widespread and available even in states without recreational marijuana laws and have been known to create issues in drugs screens.
“As operators, folks have to be cognizant of CBD as well, because you could theoretically test positive for THC even though it’s not THC,” says Kern.
Drivers who do test positive for THC while behind the wheel of a truck face an uphill battle to stay in the profession.
“I had an instance where one of my drivers came up positive on a random test,” says Billy Barstow, owner of Barstow Transportation. “He was suspended and had to report to a counselor and get her permission before he could come back. It took him out of the job for about eight months.”
Inconsistencies in the current legal landscape around pot are putting transport companies and truckers in a difficult position. To maintain a robust workforce as well as a safe supply chain, modernizing marijuana laws and establishing unified regulations will be essential moving forward. Triple T Transport is following the debate on cannabis in trucking closely and will share updates as they unfold.