Trucking Executive Says Lawmakers Must ‘Step Up’ and Address Federal-State Marijuana Conflict

The trucking industry is facing challenges due to conflicting state and federal marijuana policies that are creating a “litigious environment” and contributing to the labor shortage, said the President of the American Trucking Association (ATA), Chris Spear. Spear made the remarks during a hearing before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where he expressed concerns about impaired driving and legal liability for the industry if a person gets into an accident under the influence.

The ATA President emphasized the need for someone to prioritize safety, adding that strong standards need to be enforced and laws obeyed. Spear stated that while it is an issue that keeps him up at night, he also recognizes the 78,000-worker deficit in the trucking sector, which needs to be addressed.

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One of the issues causing the labor shortage is federal drug screening requirements for truckers. Recent data from the Department of Transportation (DOT) revealed that tens of thousands of commercial truckers are testing positive for marijuana as part of federally mandated screenings. In 2022 alone, 40,916 truckers tested positive for inactive THC metabolites. That number was a 32% increase compared to 2021, with a large fraction of truckers who tested positive failing to return to the sector.

The DOT prohibits the workforce it regulates from using marijuana and continues to test for THC regardless of state cannabis policy. The department issued a notice in 2020 stating that it would not test drivers for CBD, however. In a letter sent to the head of DOT last year, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) emphasized that the agency’s policies on drug testing truckers and other commercial drivers for marijuana are unnecessarily costing people their jobs and contributing to supply chain issues.

To mitigate the issue, the DOT proposed a new drug testing policy last year that could have significant implications for workers who use marijuana off the job. Current DOT policy mandates urine testing, but it recommended that the testing of oral saliva be added as an alternate option. Depending on the frequency of use, THC is generally detectable in saliva anywhere from one to 24 hours after use, in contrast to weeks or months for urine-based tests.

The trucking industry is simply calling for lawmakers to take action to address the labor shortage and the issues arising from conflicting state and federal marijuana policies. While safety remains a top priority, there is a need for a balanced approach that does not penalize workers who use marijuana off the job.