How to Deal with Marijuana Use by Fleet Drivers

As more states across the U.S. embrace the legalization of marijuana, fleet managers find themselves at a crossroads: grappling with the complexities of promoting road safety while navigating shifting societal attitudes toward cannabis.  

Nearly 41,000 truck drivers tested positive for marijuana in 2022, a 32% increase over 2021, according to a Transport Topics report with data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. 

These numbers continue to increase as do the states legalizing recreational marijuana, which is currently legal in 24 states, or nearly half the country.  

“Unfortunately, the number of marijuana positives in the Clearinghouse continues to trend in the wrong direction,” Dan Horvath, vice president of safety policy for American Trucking Associations, told Transport Topics. “When you take into account legalization efforts across the country, coupled with misinformation about when marijuana use is legal or not, I’m not at all surprised.” 

This trend of legalization and sentiment is a challenge for trucking. Marijuana has historically been classified at the federal level as a dangerous drug akin to heroin and LSD. As a result, the Department of Transportation prohibits its use by commercial drivers, even in states that have fully legalized cannabis. However, the Biden administration announced on April 30 that it would seek to reclassify marijuana as a less dangerous drug. 

Here are three high-level considerations: 

  • Federal law now prohibits the use and transport of marijuana for commercial drivers. 
  • Even as drug testing laws change at the state level, a positive screening for marijuana can cost truck drivers their jobs and potentially their commercial licenses under federal regulations. 
  • Marijuana, like alcohol, has a negative effect on driving. 

Addressing the challenges stemming from cannabis use within commercial drivers necessitates proactive measures and government involvement, rather than overlooking the hurdles employers face in tackling this issue.  

The trucking industry has seen increasing difficulties with labor as pot usage increases, reported the Wall Street Journal

Marijuana testing has impacted driver recruitment and retention, according to 56% of respondents to a survey. One respondent said their company has a zero-tolerance policy for equipment operators and requires pre-employment and random testing for the drug. 

Finding a balance between safeguarding employee rights and prioritizing a secure work environment, especially in positions requiring vehicle operation, demands a nuanced approach. 

Fleet managers can follow these prescriptive steps: 

  • Clear drug and alcohol policies: Create and disseminate thorough policies that clearly define expectations, repercussions, and testing protocols concerning drug and alcohol consumption. 
  • Education and training: Continuously offer education and training sessions for employees, emphasizing the dangers of impaired driving, the impacts of cannabis consumption, and the significance of responsible conduct. Employees should know how testing works, what the DOT tests for, protocols and procedures for positive tests, and how individuals may still test positive for THC, even if they have not used marijuana. 
  • Use technology: Employing technology, such as impairment-detection tools or in-cab monitoring systems, can enhance safety measures and detect signs of impairment. Consider implementing video telematics within the vehicle. 

What happens when drivers fail drug tests or admit to marijuana use? It’s becoming difficult for companies to choose disciplinary action due to societal attitudes, legality, and the risk of losing employees. 

A zero-tolerance policy for marijuana may not be possible, depending on your state’s laws. However, the best marijuana policies will prohibit workers from using marijuana while at work and keep them from being under the influence when they report for work. 

While termination of a driver for violating a DOT drug/alcohol prohibition is the employer’s prerogative, a DOT spokesman told that “modern, forward-thinking carriers that want to run as safely as possible may have a written, voluntary self-identification policy to encourage drivers to come forward – rather than hide the fact knowing they would face termination.” 

This kind of policy removes the individual from driving duties until he or she successfully completes the return-to-duty process under the direction of a substance abuse professional. Companies can provide access to support for employees with drug problems, either through in-house programs or referrals to local resources. 

The bottom line is, that workers under the influence of marijuana do not have the skills needed to drive safely. Because marijuana use is on the rise, fleet managers need to address its use with clearly articulated vehicle safety programs and policies for employees to navigate the testing process and consequences of a positive test. 

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