Marijuana legalization is creating some interesting ripple effects in many industries. In the trucking industry, it will represent a new freight carrying opportunity. However, it also represents another drug testing challenge. In states such as Colorado, where marijuana is legal, more drivers are testing positive for the substance. More trucking companies and commercial driver’s schools are asking potential truck drivers not to apply for truck driver positions if they’re going to test positive for marijuana, but, despite this, failure rates on drug tests are still as high as 60% in some areas.
Clashes Between State and Federal Laws
According to the federal government, marijuana is still a Schedule I narcotic, making it illegal for possession, sale, or consumption. However, truck drivers often travel through many states during the course of their work, and many of the drivers testing positive for marijuana are consuming it without realizing it. Recreational marijuana is legal in Alaska, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana is legal in 29 states and the District of Columbia. Since marijuana is so prevalent, many drivers are failing drug tests due to consumption they did not realize, such as eating pot-laced confections at parties and similar scenarios.
The United States Transportation Department is steadfast in its prohibition of marijuana use for any safety-sensitive employees, regardless of whether marijuana consumption is legal in the driver’s home state. For example, a truck driver who legally consumes marijuana in California may risk losing his job due to marijuana’s federal classification as a narcotic.
Drivers Are Losing Jobs
Most trucking companies are adhering to “zero tolerance” policies, regardless of marijuana’s legal status in the state. Truck drivers have inherently dangerous jobs, and the effects of marijuana are not as clear-cut as other drugs like alcohol. Additionally, many truck drivers continue to assume that a medical marijuana prescription means they are legally permitted to consume marijuana, but this is not the case. Medical marijuana’s legality at the state level does not supersede federal law in the eyes of the trucking industry.
Many truck drivers with long careers have lost their jobs due to recreational or medical marijuana use, even in states where it is legal. Until the federal government reclassifies marijuana and the Department of Transportation relaxes its stance, it is extremely unwise for any truck driver to consume marijuana. Doing so not only jeopardizes the driver’s career, but it also endangers others on the road around the driver. THC, the active chemical in marijuana responsible for creating the “high,” affects people in different ways, so erring on the side of caution is not only prudent for retaining one’s job but crucial in preventing potential injuries or deaths.
Marijuana creates problems for trucking companies in many ways, and, ultimately, it impacts their bottom lines as well. Drug testing costs money, and more accurate testing is more expensive. If trucking companies are going to adhere to “zero tolerance” policies, they need reliable testing methods to ensure drivers are abiding by the rules. Unfortunately, more robust testing creates other expenses, namely in the form of the costs associated with firing positive-testing drivers and hiring and training new drivers to take their place.
The debates churning over marijuana are likely to continue for years, but it’s wise for any truck driver on the road today to completely avoid both recreational and medical marijuana. It’s simply not worth risking a career or a life.