A Wells Fargo financial analyst has blamed the federal prohibition of cannabis for the nation’s shortage of truckers that has led to supply chain problems across the country.
Chris Harvey, Wells Fargo’s head of equity strategy, said that the demands of the job, which often require truckers to be away from home for days if not weeks at a time, have always posed a recruiting challenge for trucking companies. But he also blamed drug screenings for cannabis for exacerbating the current driver shortage that is plaguing trucking companies from coast to coast.
“It’s really about drug testing,” Harvey said while speaking on an industry conference call last week. “We’ve legalized marijuana in some states but, obviously, not all … What we’ve done is we’re excluding a significant portion of that trucker industry.”
Harvey said that many drivers have had to leave the industry because of drug testing, adding that requirements that went into effect as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold will “continue to push that price even higher” in the form of increased transportation costs and empty store shelves.
Strict Drug Testing Requirements for Truck Drivers
Truckers are subject to strict regulations that require them to undergo random drug and alcohol screenings on a quarterly basis. Truck drivers are also subject to additional drug testing after a collision or if they receive a traffic citation.
In January 2020, new legislation went into effect requiring the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration to create and maintain a database of all truck drivers who had failed a screening for alcohol or drugs. With the information, trucking companies can avoid hiring drivers who failed a drug screening at one company but then applied for employment at another.
The new drug screening reporting requirements went into effect as cannabis continues to be legalized across the country, with 38 states now permitting cannabis in some form. So far, the new law has impacted about 110,000 drivers, including more than half that tested positive for cannabis. But Lamont Byrd, director of the Teamsters’ safety and health department, noted that unlike alcohol, testing positive for cannabis does not equate to driver impairment.
“The use of marijuana among drivers presents a real dilemma because we don’t have a test that can measure impairment like we do for alcohol,” Byrd told Minnesota Public Radio. “So the drug or its metabolites … hang around for days, weeks and sometimes longer periods of time, so you don’t know from a test perspective if a person is actually impaired. So to err on the side of caution, its use is prohibited.”
Thousands of Truckers Lost Due to New Rules
Sean Garney, vice president of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, noted that tens of thousands of truckers have been disqualified from driving since the new rules went into effect. He believes that the new database has led to a reduction in the trucker work force by about 2.5 percent.
“It’s hard to deny the fact that 47,000 drivers are ineligible to operate a commercial vehicle since the beginning of the clearinghouse,” he said. “But making sure drivers who should be ineligible aren’t driving is a good thing.”
Mary Bohl, electronic logging device coordinator of Hettinger Trucking in Missouri, said the new rules have led many applicants for truck driver positions to change their minds before completing the hiring process.
“We’ve had some who’ve said yes until they found out about having to register with the drug and alcohol clearinghouse, and they didn’t want to do that,” she said.
“At one point we had 17 truckers. Now we’re down to nine,” Bohl added. “It’s not fun at all. We are really struggling to get people in here.”