Commercial Drivers Are Embracing Cannabis Despite Risking Termination
October 14, 2021 03:00 pm ET
Estimated Read Time: 5 Minutes
Based on the latest statistics from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), commercial drivers love cannabis. In fact, cannabis shows up more than any other illicit substance in the drug tests of commercial drivers, who hold commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs). While the laws surrounding cannabis are starting to catch up to the people’s will, many CDL holders still face prohibition-era issues when it comes to obtaining and keeping a job.
Drivers Love It; Policies Prohibit It
Recent data from the FMCSA showed that 98% of failed drug and alcohol screenings by licensed commercial drivers in the first half of 2020 were for drugs rather than alcohol. In total, there were only 892 drivers who failed a drug screening for alcohol. However, this likely has more to do with the metabolization of the substances than the drivers’ substance use. Unlike cannabis, which remains detectable for weeks and even months, alcohol generally leaves the system in less than 24 hours.
For commercial drivers, who are mandated by the DOT to provide pre-employment urine samples, this means alcohol can be easily consumed during employment while cannabis is a huge no-no. A driver can pass a screening the day after being drunk, but a joint smoked weeks before a shift can easily lead to termination.
Nonetheless, CDL holders are taking on the risk of indulging in the green. Over 50% of the 40,433 screenings in the first half of 2020 came back positive for cannabis. Despite many states opting to legalize the medical and recreational use of cannabis, the FMCSA doesn’t show any leniency. Even if a CDL holder visits a state that allows recreational cannabis use, it is not legal for them to consume, according to Larry Minor, the associate administrator for policy at the FMCSA.
While a failed drug test might not necessarily end a driver’s career entirely, the stain on their record can be so difficult to resolve that many just opt to find a different career. Online forums are riddled with heartbreaking stories about drivers who failed random screenings and didn’t have the time or means to go through the DOT-mandated return-to-duty process.
One driver, who described his cannabis use as casual and occasional, outlined his experience with the process, which required extensive travel and weeks of useless courses that cost hundreds of dollars. While the driver accepted full responsibility for the failed drug test, he expressed disappointment in the inconsistencies in current DOT rules:
“I can legally get drunk the night before I drive and drive with a hangover the next day. I can drive while using a hands-free device and talking on the phone. I can show up for work after getting two hours of sleep. These are all statistically much riskier factors than allowing someone to drive who has trace elements of marijuana in their system. No scientific evidence exists to prove that 30 days after I use marijuana I am too impaired to drive. But the federally mandated consequences of my failed drug test imply that I am.”
Even upon completion of the return-to-duty process, failed drug and alcohol screenings stay on a driver’s record for three years. Additionally, employers must maintain certain drug and alcohol testing records for at least five years—all for one violation.
Why Commercial Drivers Are Turning to Cannabis
Commercial drivers are responsible for connecting consumers with all physical goods. As an essential part of logistics, those behind the wheel put their bodies through hell to ensure everything we need reaches our storefronts and doorsteps. The long hours of immobility paired with the lifestyle of working on the road can lead to an array of health issues—issues that can often be mitigated with cannabinoid therapies.
According to the CDC, 14% of truck drivers reported having diabetes, which is double that of the general working population. Diabetes can lead to issues such as heart disease, blindness, kidney failure, and more. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is another condition experienced at a higher rate among truck drivers: 26% of truck drivers said they have hypertension, compared to 24% of the U.S. working population.
Hypertension increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death in the U.S. What’s more, statistics have also shown that the obesity rates and rates of tobacco addiction are much higher in truck drivers than in the general working public. Smoking and obesity are the leading causes of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and many other health issues.
Considering all of these factors, it’s not hard to understand why so many CDL holders indulge in cannabis—and it seems callous to prevent them from using a natural therapy that helps relieve the effects of such a difficult lifestyle.
It’s Time for Some Policy Changes
CDL holders are not the only drivers that are choosing cannabis. According to a survey conducted by AAA, over 14.8 million drivers who participated admitted to having consumed cannabis within an hour of driving. While drivers should always be aware of their ability to operate a vehicle safely, it should be acknowledged that cannabis—a plant with compounds that work specifically with the endogenous endocannabinoid system within our bodies—does not impair the same way alcohol does.
Of course, the majority of commercial drivers testing positive for cannabis likely are not actively high while being screened or driving. The fact of the matter is cannabis stays in the body far longer than many other substances, including some that are irrefutably more dangerous for drivers. Fat-soluble THC will show up on a urine drug test for 30 to 45 days after intake, but “cocaine, amphetamines and methamphetamines, MDMA, and heroin are usually only detectable within three to six days of use,” according to Heavy Duty Trucking.
What we put in our bodies should not dictate our career choices. As more research on cannabis comes to light—sparking legalization—stories of commercial drivers being kicked to the curb for harmless cannabis use will hopefully become a thing of the past.
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