The American Trucking Association released a statement in October 2021, citing retiring driving veterans and lower wages as the partial cause for the shortage of more than 80,000 drivers. However, another cause for this shortage is being attributed to adult-use legalization and drivers testing positive for cannabis.
A March 2022 U.S. Department of Transportation summary report states that as of April 1, 2022, 10,276 commercial truck drivers tested positive for THC. (Although this is a significant decrease in numbers, compared to 31,085 violations in 2021 and 29,511 violations in 2020.) Cannabis leads the data as the highest positive drug tests for drivers, but this also includes data about drivers who test positive for cocaine, methamphetamine, oxymorphone and more.
The situation is especially difficult for drivers who consume because many of them travel through multiple states with varying approaches to legalization.
According to an article on Stacker, the Department of Transportation (DOT) Handbook: A Compliance for Guide Truck Drivers confirms that cannabis is still federally illegal. “While states may allow medical use of marijuana, federal laws and policy do not recognize any legitimate medical use of marijuana. Even if a state allows the use of marijuana, DOT regulations treat its use as the same as the use of any other illicit drug.”
The DOT’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) increased drug testing rates from 25% to 50% two years ago. “The new minimum annual percentage rate for random drug testing will be effective January 1, 2020. This change reflects the increased positive test rate and will result in an estimated $50 to $70 million increase in costs to the industry by requiring that more drivers be tested.” However, it also notes that random alcohol testing remained at 10%.
The FMCSA also states that medical cannabis is also not allowed with any noted exceptions. “Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), a person is not physically qualified to drive a CMV if he or she uses any Schedule I controlled substance such as marijuana,” it states. “Accordingly, a driver may not use marijuana even if is recommended by a licensed medical practitioner.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines five risk factors of being a truck long-haul truck driver, including obesity, smoking, low physical activity, high blood pressure and diabetes. Some of these common workplace conditions have been known to be treated with medical cannabis. In one study from December 2015, medical cannabis helped prevent obesity in mice. Some studies identified how cannabis can actually help treat nicotine addiction. Even a study from this past February showed evidence of how cannabis can help lower blood pressure in those who suffer from hypertension.
An April White House Fact Sheet states that trucking accounts for 72% of products delivered in the U.S., with a plan to assist and help expand trucking job opportunities. “Trucking costs grew more than 20 percent last year as a surge in demand for goods caused by the pandemic confronted a decline in trucking employment that preceded the pandemic,” the Fact Sheet states. “The low supply of drivers is driven by high turnover and low job quality. Turnover in trucking routinely averages 90 percent for some carriers and drivers spend about 40 percent of their workday waiting to load and unload goods—hours that are typically unpaid.”
While the White House’s focus on bettering the work lives of truckers across the country is a step in the right direction, there is a need to alter regulations to allow truckers to use cannabis. One of the efforts includes connecting veterans with trucking jobs, however, with the current state of military veterans seeking access to medical cannabis to treat conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder, it would create another hurdle for them to overcome.