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Feds Must Change Policies To Address Trucking Industry Labor Shortage

Several state governments, as well as major corporations, have wisely amended their rules

Tens of thousands of workers are leaving the commercial trucking industry because the federal government refuses to update its antiquated marijuana policies. Fewer truckers on the road results in supply chain shortages and higher prices for the goods Americans rely on.

At issue are federal regulations adopted in 1988 mandating all federally contracted workers to refrain from the use of certain controlled substances, including cannabis. Despite the reality that most state governments have since legalized cannabis use under certain circumstances, neither Congress nor federal regulators have revisited the marijuana-specific provisions of Drug-Free Workplace Act.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of commercially licensed drivers must routinely undergo random urinalysis screenings for cannabis use to maintain their employment. However, these tests are not intended to assess whether drivers are under the influence of cannabis while on the job. Rather, they are solely designed to detect whether one may have been exposed to cannabis several days, weeks, or even months earlier. 

That’s because urine screens detect the presence of carboxy-THC – an inert byproduct of cannabis that can remain present in urine for as long as 100 days post-abstinence. Because it possesses such a prolonged detection window, the Justice Department has long acknowledged that a positive test result “does not indicate abuse or addiction; recency, frequency, or amount of use; or impairment.”

Over the past several years, truckers and other drivers subjected to this testing have been failing these tests in record numbers. Since 2020, over 139,000 truckers have tested positive for past cannabis exposure. That total is far greater than the total number of failures for all other drugs combined. Most of these drivers are refusing to reapply for work in the industry. Tens of thousands of additional drivers are skipping their tests altogether. In all, more than 150,000 licensed drivers have left the profession in recent years because of these zero-tolerance workplace drug testing policies. 

A change in these discriminatory and counterproductive marijuana drug testing policies is long overdue. These outdated regulations are an artifact of the 1980s drug war zeitgeist. But times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in most states, the marijuana laws have changed. Workplace policies, and those that regulate federal workers specifically, must adapt to this new reality and cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no legitimate workplace safety threat.

Several state governments, including California and New York, as well as major corporations like Amazon, have wisely amended their rules so that most public and private employees may no longer be terminated from their jobs solely because of a positive drug test for the presence of THC metabolites. In addition, performance testing technologies like DRUID and Alert Meter are now becoming more widely available for employers who wish to assess whether their employees are actually impaired while at their jobs.

It’s high time that the federal government similarly update and amend its own antiquated marijuana testing regulations in accordance with cannabis’ rapidly changing cultural and legal status. 

This op-ed originally appeared in Marijuana Moment and was republished via NORML.