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Report: Truckers Support Marijuana Testing Reform

Truckers have issues with marijuana testing
Written by Sarah Friedman

A recent report on truckers indicates a desire for general reform among drivers; particularly in how drivers are tested

The trucking industry is an industry with both a labor shortage problem, and an issue with marijuana tests. A new report backs up that truckers are very much for marijuana reform, especially in trucker testing policies. What did the report say? And how prevalent is it to test positive for cannabis in the trucking industry?

Report on truckers and marijuana

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) released a report called Impacts of Marijuana Legalization on the Trucking Industry, on June 5th. The report evaluates how a marijuana legalization can impact truckers as a whole. It covers different topics related to both marijuana and the trucking industry: latest demographics of legalization; an evaluation of data regarding marijuana use, and highway safety; what implications a legalization could have on hiring practices for truckers; and an evaluation of CDL data for driver drug tests.

The report was a high priority for the organization’s Research Advisory Committee (RAC) in 2022. It includes a number of driver surveys to gain insight into how these workers feel about marijuana reform, and the current laws attached to drug tests. Overall, drivers showed they were unhappy with current drug test laws, particularly because there is no actual impairment test.

The report subsequently goes into how the federal government could potentially update policy as a part of overall marijuana reform. The report speaks of two different options in front of the federal government, that have two very different outcomes for the future of the trucking industry.

The first is to do nothing, and maintain the same policy of prohibition. This pathway results in what’s already happening today. Drivers constantly being removed (despite the shortage) due only to a positive test; which potentially highlights use from well before the time of testing. The other option is for legalization, for which the agency reminds that the following would be necessary to help employers: national standards for marijuana testing and impairment; and laws that protect carriers, and allow for continued screening of some kind.

Truckers subjected most often to marijuana urine tests
Truckers subjected most often to marijuana urine tests

The report reminds us that “The central goal of industry drug testing efforts is highway safety. The current approach supports safety efforts, but also results in inefficiencies when drivers that do not present a safety issue are removed from the industry.” It continues, “To ensure that the trucking industry remains safe and unimpaired, there are several actions that must be taken before any federal efforts to legalize marijuana commence.”

Currently there are approximately 3.49 million truck drivers in the US alone, according to data via The referenced Economics and Industry Data report gathered information from 2021. Though this sounds like a huge number, its actually representative of an industry shortage. According to CDLjobs, the industry needs approximately 50,000-60,000 more drivers. Issues behind this situation include a lot of baby-boom-born drivers retiring, and a high turnover rate among workers. Due to the latter, much has already been done to improve conditions, to make driving a more appealing job.

Some specifics of the report on trucking and marijuana

In the report, the RAC points out, that “More than half of all positive trucking industry drug tests are for marijuana metabolite,” and that federal prohibition “has been highlighted as a potential disincentive for drivers to stay in the industry, and it has even been argued that loosening the restrictions on marijuana use would make the industry more attractive and widen the potential labor pool.”

The term ‘marijuana metabolites’ refers to the compounds that are produced when main compounds break down. Some can stay in body tissue for quite a while after use; like days, weeks, or months. This implies that some of these drivers might show positive drug results, when they haven’t used the drug recently. The amount of time for full clearance, depends on the individual person.

At the moment, federal law states that commercial drivers cannot use cannabis at all – zero-tolerance. A host of tests are applied; both before employment, and randomized tests for hired staff. Under current federal law, any use is restricted, whether its use while working, or while off the clock. The drivers are not tested for impairment, however. Which means they can be penalized for a positive test, even with excellent performance.

In terms of what drivers think of all this, the report’s included survey data pointed to 72.4% of (licensed) drivers who want marijuana reform in general, and in this particular industry. 66.5% were for a full federal legalization. 65.4%, regardless of anything else, wanted a fair testing system that looks for active impairment, instead of punishing drivers for what they might be doing off-hours, or which isn’t affecting their performance abilities. They said the urine-based screening currently used, should be replaced for a testing regiment that focuses mainly on impairment.

ATRI explained this issue further, saying “current marijuana testing is likely effective at removing drivers who may work while impaired, it also likely removes drivers who previously used the drug but would not operate a truck while impaired.”

According to the report, how many drivers said its common to leave the trucking industry over marijuana rules? 50.2%. And in terms of how these drivers, who are constantly on the road, look at highway safety in terms of marijuana legalization? 55.4% didn’t think such laws had increased danger on roads to any noticeable degree.

How truckers see road safety
How truckers see road safety

As far as research on the topic, the report points to a lack of concrete information on marijuana’s influence on highway safety. Even a report from Congressional Research Services in 2019 via MarijuanaMoment, couldn’t point to definitive information of marijuana increasing danger on roadways. While this doesn’t indicate it can’t, lets remember that we don’t have to debate whether alcohol causes damage on roads. When something so frequently causes damage, it’s pretty clear.

How many truckers are affected by marijuana laws?

According to Transport Topics, nearly 41,000 drivers got a positive marijuana test result in 2022. This number is a 32% increase from the previous year; and this information was compiled through the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse. It notes there have been over 100,000 positive marijuana tests since the Clearinghouse began in 2020.

When a driver tests positive, they are barred from driving. They don’t necessarily get fired, but are made to go through a ‘return-to-work’ process, complete with a clean test; before they can start driving again. Consider that this means not getting paid for some amount of time, which impairs the driver’s ability to make an income. This likely relates to why drivers are so willing to leave the job because of marijuana laws.

The Clearinghouse tests for 14 different substances, for which marijuana is responsible for the majority of positive results. Following marijuana are cocaine, methamphetamines, and amphetamines. Together, these four drugs total 90% of positive tests, for which there have been 177,376 in the last three years.

According to Clearinghouse, as of May 1st of this year, 12,527 drivers received a positive marijuana test. The day after (on June 2nd), a final rule was established by the Federal Aviation Administration, the Federal Railroad Administration, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration; working in conjunction. It amends the Department of Transportation’s standard drug testing policy, to now include an oral fluid testing option. This went into effect June 3rd.

Saliva tests have benefits when it comes to marijuana testing. THC is only detectable in saliva for up to around 24 hours; which means this could help stop positive tests for drivers who may have smoked days or weeks prior to testing. It’s a step up, even if it still doesn’t account for the issue of impairment.

How dangerous is it to drive on weed?

The question of whether marijuana impairs driving, is not as conclusive as with other drugs like alcohol. As stated, even a federal congressional investigation couldn’t turn up conclusive results. In fact, some recent research shows not an uptick in impaired driving, but less driving incidences in locations with legalization policies.

I can say for my part that I cannot drive safely on marijuana, so I choose not to do it. For most other people I know, marijuana just makes the drive better, and I haven’t heard of incidences related to impairment. Its possible that unlike with alcohol, those who have an issue with it, probably won’t mix the two. After all, cannabis doesn’t cause the same impairment in thought as drinking does.

Drunk driving causes non-debatable roadway issues
Drunk driving causes non-debatable roadway issues

Plus, no one questions whether alcohol causes damage on roadways. Too much evidence exists to go against it; and it becomes obvious through personal stories, or stories of friends or community members. If you talk to enough people – and it doesn’t have to be that many – you’ll find someone impacted by drunk driving.

What are some statistics? In the US, there are approximately 29 deaths a day on the roadways due to drunk driving, which indicates a death approximately every 50 minutes. In 2016, the total drunk driving death total came to 10,497, and this accounted for 28% of all deaths on the road. That year, 1,233 children died on the road, and 17% were due to drunk drivers.

Regardless that cannabis shows no agreed-upon increase in issues, and a possible decline in them; many states are adopting drugged driving policies in which drivers who test positive for cannabis, receive a DUI. People who are stopped on roadways usually face blood-tests, which measure the THC in nanograms. Different states have different amounts set for what gets a person in trouble. Much like with truck drivers, a positive test doesn’t mean the driver actually showed impairment.


We rely on the trucking industry to get goods from here to there, and we generally complain when it doesn’t happen in the time frame we desire. It suffices to say that a shortage in truck drivers isn’t wanted by anyone. Hopefully, the new saliva tests will replace the urine tests more often; and that a federal legalization might help ease the restrictions related to truckers and marijuana in general.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.