As more states legalize marijuana, it’s becoming a growing issue for the trucking industry.

Recreational marijuana has been legal in Colorado since 2014, and drug tests indicate more drivers and job applicants are using the substance.

Even as more trucking companies and commercial driver’s license schools are telling candidates not to fill out applications if they’re going to test positive, failure rates are still as high as 60 percent, said Greg Fulton, president of the Colorado Motor Carriers Assn.

It’s hurting the ability of some companies to grow, said Fulton. “It’s just so much more prevalent. It’s in cookies, muffins, bread, candy. More people are testing positive. People say they were at a party and just didn’t know.”

Recreational marijuana is now legal in Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana is also legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia, and a 2016 survey from Gallup revealed that 13 percent of Americans said they use marijuana, up from only 7 percent in 2013.

Still, trucking companies won’t be changing their zero-tolerance policies anytime soon, in part because marijuana remains illegal under federal law and Department of Transportation regulation.

More States Confront the Issue

Recreational marijuana sales in California are set to begin in early 2018, and trucking companies have no intention of changing their policies.

The California Trucking Assn. advises all current and prospective commercial drivers that federal law prohibiting the use of marijuana is still in full effect, no matter what changes have occurred in state law, said Shawn Yadon, chief executive of the trade group.

Federal law prohibits both medical and recreational consumption. This means a driver who uses marijuana legally in a state like Colorado or Alaska could be at risk of termination should they test positive for the drug.

That’s different from alcohol. Truck drivers may be able to have a couple of drinks and be cleared to drive the following day as alcohol leaves the body faster. Drivers cannot have a blood alcohol concentration of 0.02 percent or greater, according to a Transportation Department handbook.

Yet marijuana will be off limits for the foreseeable future.

The Transportation Department remains the chief regulator on issues regarding controlled-substance testing for the trucking industry, Yadon said.

Shawn Yadon

Shawn Yadon, chief executive of the California Trucking Assn.

“To this end, the use of marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes by any safety-sensitive employee subject to drug testing continues to be forbidden, regardless of whether its use is legal within a state,” he said.

A new recreational marijuana law is also set to go into effect in February 2018 in Maine. Though there has been some confusion with wording in the law indicating employers cannot penalize employees for a positive marijuana test, the law is still clear for drivers.

Companies are still viewing the matter with “zero tolerance” policies, but the confusion is causing some workers to take it as a legal green light to consume marijuana, said Brian Parke, president and chief executive of the Maine Motor Transport Assn.

“My understanding is that it is impacting some companies in their hiring, because not every driver understands that even if they have a prescription for medical marijuana, it doesn’t trump federal regulations. There’s some confusion,” Parke said.

All trucking companies operating under Transportation Department regulations continue to use urinalysis for pre- and post-employment drug screening. The Transportation Department clarified in June that despite state laws, its workplace drug and alcohol testing rule – Alcohol Testing Regulation 49 CFR Part 40 at 40.15(e) – does not authorize “medical marijuana” to be a valid medical explanation for a transportation employee’s positive drug result.

Employers in non-Transportation Department roles have been loosening their drug testing standards. In the past two years, 7 percent of employers have dropped marijuana from their pre-screening drug tests, while 3 percent have dropped it from all drug testing.

But trucking companies are going in the other direction, with more communications with drivers about the use of marijuana, and they are training supervisors to better identify impairment, Fulton said.

“I think almost all of our companies have revisited their drug and alcohol policies, and brought those more up to standards, as they see, based on this new environment,” he said.

Limited by Federal Laws and Testing Methods

Unlike with alcohol testing, there are no agreed-upon scientifically validated testing methods to indicate marijuana impairment at a specific point in time. So even employers who want to give their workers the freedom to use a legal substance on their personal time have no valid means to accurately test for impairment on the job.

THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, is processed differently than alcohol and can stay in the system for up to a month. In Colorado and Washington, a person can be charged with a DUI if it’s revealed by a blood test that there are THC concentrations of 5ng/ml or higher. In Oregon, authorities may use officer observation and a urine test to determine if a driver is impaired.

Testing is a major issue, said Kathryn Russo, an attorney at the law firm of Jackson Lewis in Melville, N.Y., who specializes in workplace drug policies.

“That’s the big controversy because all employers have to go by is a drug test. And if you test positive, that means you have it in your system, even if you used it a week ago,” Russo said.

A few companies are already working on a breathalyzer-type device to measure marijuana impairment. As more states legalize marijuana, there will be a tipping point or “critical mass” at which the Transportation Department will be pressured to address the issue and determine better testing methods, Fulton said.

More acceptance of marijuana will force regulators’ hands into determining an “acceptable” level of marijuana chemicals in the system, much as a person can have an acceptable level of alcohol in their system, he said.

Yet the Transportation Department is unable to change its position unless the Drug Enforcement Administration or Congress downgrades marijuana to a Schedule II drug. Marijuana is currently considered a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, which puts it in the same category as heroin and LSD.

The DEA reevaluated the classification of marijuana last year but kept it in Schedule I. The result hinged on marijuana having “no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States” and remains vulnerable to abuse, said DEA chief Chuck Rosenberg.

Until federal authorities reclassify marijuana, it will remain illegal under federal law and Transportation Department regulations, Russo said.

“I still think it’s a long way off. You can’t do marijuana ever, and even if you have a medical marijuana card, too bad. You’re not going to get a job as a DOT driver,” she said.

Read next: Trucking Industry Looks to Felons to Plug Driver Shortage

About The Author

Craig Guillot

Craig Guillot is a freelance business journalist from Louisiana. He is a contributing editor at STORES Magazine, and his work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur, CNBC.com, CNNMoney.com, and Global Trade. You can find him on Twitter: @cguillot.

3 Responses

  1. Jerry

    If your off duty and home what we do with our time is our business so if pot becomes legal then truckers should be able to smoke pot but once we get behind that wheel then i say no to smokeing pot when your on duty but drug testing should be done away with truckers are no different than the average joe that dont drive truck we go thru enough bullshit of these screwed up regs on truckers someone needs to get a handle on the shit on truckers and stop puting regs on us that they cant follow themselves i feel that what we do on our time is our business not the trucking companys business that how i feel

    Reply
  2. Michael T. Douglas

    Michael is My name, Recently I’ve been trying to get my DOT Medical Card…They kept fudging my blood pressure…Yesterday, I went in to to get My blood pressure checked and they said, it was 126/98 no it 92 I guess…? Huh? That’s strange ,I’m thinking…What’s going on here? See I have 45 day’s to pass My blood pressure and when I’m 126 over diastolic,it’s always in a normal area of 70-80…
    Doctor come’s in and say’s we want you in a drug diversion program for marijuana… and sleep test/with stress test, because I had a stroke 2 years ago with no side effects…What’s going on here? I’ve bought my Wife Medical Marijuana for Pain Relief for Her Back (operation w/disk replacement)
    Now I guess they consider Me a “Marijuana User” Comunism,Hmmm?

    Reply
  3. Pete

    The real problem is two folded . First is the fact that it is being legalized in do many states and actually may be five states away from federally being uncriminalized . So either way in the future changes will have to be made . The other issue is with urine test themselves. Fact is most drug users are that are in the industry ARE DRIVING HIGH and still beating the test . Fact is marijuana is THE ONLY DRUG that generally stays in your system more than 48 hours . So beating a random with most drugs is in the drivers favor . Second even still they wait till after 5 pm Friday and party the night away with any host of drugs and know all the need to do is pump up with water all weekend and they can pass a random at 9 am Monday morning. And everyone in the industry IS AWARE OF THIS .
    The third issue is one like I faced . I will finally be getting back in a truck but six months ago I was bar hopping in Daytona Beach and got a drink not meant for me . Now it’s still not known what all was in that drink but we know a THC product was definitely in it , since I failed a random . What’s important to note though is not only that I’ve never failed a test but I also never failed a hair follicle test . Hair follicle test ingested actually is the only way you can test for A DRUG ADDICT . A urine test does not do this and the reason is as simple as my own situation. When you come in contact with a drug , for what ever reason, at a single time the hair follicle test proves this . Your test will show a spike and that’s it . A drug user on the other hand will show multiple spikes or just steady elevation in numbers found in the hair .
    This is the one major change that needs to be made because drug testing is supposed to weed out regular drug users for public safety and not punish someone who goes to a party and gets a tainted drink or even an edible.
    The other issue is it’s not JUST PARTY Atmospheres where people are being exposed to these new THC Products unknowingly. People can go to a country music concert and get drunk and not know they were exposed because of how the effects are actually similar to drinking . The issue also involves a side effect . A lot of people that are exposed to THC products think they have food poisoning and may sleep it off before the actual high take effects . Therefore they never even know it was anything more than a bug .
    Then there’s the fact of how many just don’t know what’s wrong at all . For those that think that’s not possible just look up the story of police chief that was drugged in his own home with a THC laced cake . Cops are trained to know when people are under the influence but he could not figure out what was happening to him . He drove to police station ,( which do I need to point out what would have happened to any of us if we drove to police station ? ) for help and they rushed him to hospital and a toxicology report showed it was THC . This even happened at a church .
    So fact is like most people who have access to guns , people who have access to THC products do not generally have nefarious intentions… But that small percentage that does cause ALL OF US PROBLEMS .

    Reply

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