Truck Driver Shortage & Cannabis Consumption: We Need A Solution Before Store Shelves Go Bare

Drug use among commercial truck drivers may be at its highest level since 2019 and the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) wants to know why. To that end, it is asking carriers a series of questions on safety and other concerns in relation to state-level marijuana legalization. 

Previous ATRI studies have shown a correlation between an increase in drivers under the influence and laws legalizing recreational marijuana, now Atri’s Research Advisory Committee will look closer at recreational marijuana.

December 2022 data from the Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse showed positive tests and refusals to take a drug test have increased 18% to 69,668 compared with last year’s 59,011.

Most of the increase was attributed to violations related to marijuana, which was the substance identified most in positive tests. Weed violations increased 31.6% in 2022 compared with 2021, to 40,916. 

In fact, positive drug tests reported into the clearinghouse in 2022 increased in 12 of 14 substances tracked by the database, with only hydrocodone and heroin showing decreases, reported FreightWaves.

“While the numbers are a little jarring, it is clear the clearinghouse is working as intended,” P. Sean Garney, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting told FreightWaves.

Regarding marijuana specifically, FreightWaves noted that cannabis legalization could be a factor although it’s still illegal under federal law. Commercial truckers who hold legally issued medical marijuana permits can be forced to choose between their jobs and their need for medicinal cannabis.

Commercial Truck Driver Shortage

Meanwhile, cannabis testing is adding to the growing truck driver shortage. Over the past year, a record number of truckers lost their licenses for having tested positive for cannabis and many are not taking the necessary steps to get them back. This could hasten the ongoing commercial driver shortage thus exacerbating supply-chain challenges across the U.S.

Garney noted that data in the report showed there were double the number of positive tests for pre-employment screening versus positive tests taken randomly from drivers in 2022.

Bob Costello, American Trucking Association’s chief economist told attendees last week at a Recruitment and Retention conference in Tennessee, that while he anticipates the driver shortage could improve this year, he warned that shortages could skyrocket to more than 160,000 drivers by 2031 if the industry does not address the issue with long-term solutions.

“This is a warning as I look at the demographics and who is becoming a driver and the demand coming into our industry,” Costello said per Transport Topics. “And if that happens, we’ll have bare shelves in stores because of the driver shortage. We have to figure this out.”

Challenge Of Identifying Cannabis Impairment

Measuring cannabis impairment is far from an exact science as it affects everyone differently. Ohio’s Senate recently introduced a bill in which those who get caught driving with marijuana in their system could try to prove they were not impaired.

Again, not an exact science.

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