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Cannabis confusion: Thousands of truck drivers quit their jobs amid supply chain problems

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Another complication: The only acceptable roadside tests for marijuana use can produce positive results more than a month after a person has smoked or consumed it, unlike the commonly used alcohol analysis tests for alcoholism, which give a snapshot of the moment the test was taken.

Tests that capture use for weeks are forcing people out of the industry who aren’t necessarily a road hazard, said Paul Enos, CEO of the Nevada Trucking Federation, a state where recreational marijuana use is legal.

“It’s a problem for our industry when you look at the number of people who have stopped driving,” Enos said.

He added that getting drug-using drivers off the roads could help prevent poor driving. However, “we would all benefit from a reasonable vulnerability test that will not … make our highways less secure.”

And drivers who test positive for the virus find themselves in Catch-22: Many trucking companies immediately fire drivers with a positive drug test, but the process of getting back on the road requires a sponsor from their employer.

All of this comes as President Joe Biden and his appointees, including Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, try to bring more truck drivers into the workforce, for example by expanding vocational training programs that make it easier to obtain a commercial driver’s license and boost opportunities for women and veterans. The old to enter the field. Their goal is to get goods out of ports and warehouses faster, reducing the supply chain crisis that has contributed to inflation and shortages of some goods.

Sean Garney, co-director of Scopelitis Transportation Consulting, a company that advises trucking customers on rules and regulations, said the industry is losing drivers to other jobs where marijuana use is not a potential occupational killer.

“But we are bound by federal rules that classify marijuana as a Schedule I drug,” Garney said.

The Biden administration has not endorsed federal relaxed marijuana laws, but the Department of Transportation is asking for comments on a new standard for marijuana testing that would focus on latter use. This process is still in its early stages.

The trucking industry acknowledges that the rules are confusing but argues that the ban on marijuana use isn’t a big deal because the vast majority of drivers don’t show positive results. It says the relaxation of testing rules will lead to more disabled drivers on the road.

said Andrew King, research analyst at the Independent Owner and Operator Drivers Association, which represents the interests of independent truck drivers. “But it’s better to be safe than sorry. You have a federal license so you have higher standards.”

Others say drug testing is exacerbating the industry’s workforce problems.

“We’re taking a big chunk out of this trucker industry,” Chris Harvey, Wells Fargo’s head of equity strategy, said during a conference in February.

Many drivers never come back

Federal rules have long prohibited the use of cannabis by people with commercial driver’s licenses, even in states where it is legal. License holders who test positive for cannabis or another prohibited drug cannot drive again until they have completed the evaluation process, which can take months or longer.

Out of 126,043 drug offenses by commercial drivers Reported between January 2020 and March this, 56 percent was for marijuana, according to a DOT drug testing clearinghouse that launched two years ago. All this led to the driver being temporarily off the road.

Many simply do not return.

A quarter of the 119,113 drivers who have experienced at least one drug violation since January 2020 have completed the process of getting back on the road. Of the nearly 90,000 drivers who are now banned from driving, more than 67,000 have not started the process of returning to service. Garney said many have left the profession.

“You need an employer sponsor. If you’re not employed, you can’t get into the system,” Garney said. “Some employers have second chance policies, others don’t. And once that happens, the drivers, according to the rules, really have no recourse to get back into the industry.”

This is bad news for a field that has become a weak link in the US supply chain, adding to the difficulties in moving goods out of ports and factories. Truck drivers already face other burdens that make the job unattractive, including the long hours behind the wheel and the large unpaid time they spend waiting for a load to be loaded.

Meanwhile, litigation-fearing employers fear hiring drivers who have a positive marijuana test on their record, even if they are cleared of returning to duty. Enos said members of the Nevada Trucking Association “think about lawsuits every day,” noting the proliferation of truck accident attorneys in recent years.

“This doesn’t make any sense.”

Although states manage the process for obtaining a commercial driver’s license, it is issued under federal standards. That means truck drivers in Colorado, where recreational cannabis was legalized a decade ago, will be banned from driving if they test positive for marijuana use.

Drivers are subject to drug testing before they are hired and after they have been in an accident, as well as at random. And if the driver fails, returning to service can be daunting. The process, in addition to support from your employer, includes an evaluation from a substance abuse specialist who determines what type of treatment is needed and how long rehabilitation may take.

Truck drivers, carriers and medical professionals have expressed frustration with the current rules for testing in Submitted comments to DOT on a A proposal for new drug tests based on saliva. Tests like this would pick up double marijuana better, as opposed to exposure for weeks.

“Of course we don’t want drivers under the influence and driving,” Lost Sheep Trucking, an Alabama-based company that commented on the drug testing rule, wrote. But the company noted that marijuana “stays in the system for 30-90 days versus cocaine and other illegal drugs.” [that] Leave quickly. So drivers who are off duty or even on vacation for a week cannot enjoy legal marijuana. It just doesn’t make any sense.”

The issue is clearly on truck drivers’ minds, too. Many jobs on subreddit r / Truckers Involve drivers in seeking advice about whether they can use cannabis When they are on vacation Or aspiring truck drivers wondering how long to wait between Quit cannabis and start a driver’s trade school. Others ask for advice about Getting a job after a positive test for marijuana or After holding a medical cannabis card in legal condition.

“Many employees may misunderstand that while their states allow marijuana use, federal law, including Department of Transportation rules, does not,” wrote Robert Ashby, former acting director of the Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance at the Department of Transportation. In the comments submitted to the department. “This misunderstanding can lead to many unnecessary positive tests.”

He said trucking companies and the government needed to do more to educate truck drivers about the rules.

Dan Horvath, vice president of safety policy for the American Trucking Federations, agreed that the situation had come to a head of misunderstanding, especially with country after country legalizing cannabis use in some form.

“Despite where the driver is, nothing has changed,” Horvath said. “This really leads to a misunderstanding of what drivers can and cannot do.”

Enos narrated the experience of a truck driving school in Las Vegas which closed during the pandemic and chose not to reopen after an analysis revealed that 64 percent of applicants tested positive for marijuana. Nevada legalized adult use of marijuana in 2016.

The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Administration, the federal agency responsible for trucking regulations, announced the number of truck drivers hired in recent months when asked about the thousands of truck drivers who were taken off the road after testing positive for marijuana.

“Truck driving employment numbers in 2021 were the highest since 1994,” said Martha Thritt, the agency’s public affairs officer, adding that states processed more than twice as many commercial driver’s licenses in January and February of this year as compared to the same period. 2021 period.

Search for better tests

Urinalysis and hair tests are the most common methods of drug testing in the transportation industries. Urinalysis, which is part of a DOT required physical examination, can detect marijuana after a month of use — or even longer for typical users — unlike the three days that cocaine stays in the system. But the tests may not even catch drivers with a disability at the time of the tests. There is no marijuana equivalent for the breathalyzers police use for drunk drivers.

The new saliva tests will detect marijuana use within six to 24 hours after exposure, and will include all forms of ingestion, such as smoking and food.

The Department of Transportation proposed allowing fluid tests in February, saying it would “help combat employee cheating in urine drug tests and provide a more economical and less intrusive means of achieving safety goals.” an agency Public comments accepted until April 29.

Horvath said the ATA supports oral fluid testing because it “avoids cheating” and is cheaper to administer.

Testing marijuana is a technical challenge because THC, the psychoactive ingredient, binds to fat cells and can remain in the body long after the drug’s intoxicating effects wear off.

“I’m not sure shooting is a good idea [workers] Hujong Yu, lead author of . said: A recent study on oral fluid tests. But urine tests are currently the “simpler and easier” on-site drug abuse test.

Blood tests are better at detecting in recent use – but are impractical compared to oral fluid testing because they require a medical professional to draw blood and then analyze the blood in a laboratory.

Industry caught in the middle

The trucking industry isn’t calling for drug restrictions to be relaxed, though, acknowledging that differences between federal law and more lenient state standards can be confusing for drivers.

Both the ATA and OUIDA argue that testing rules, along with a federal clearinghouse established in 2020, are necessary to keep disabled drivers out of the way while preventing job-shifting drug users from hiding their previous test results. They say the number of positive tests is low compared to the 2.8 million licensed commercial drivers registered with the Federal Clearinghouse.

“Nothing was so precise before the clearinghouse,” said ATA’s Horvath. “While we note well that this will have an impact on the number of drivers who can operate, we would prefer an empty truck rather than a driver under the influence on the road.”

However, he acknowledged that conversations within the industry are taking place about whether the reliance on testing should change.

“We’re starting to see marijuana pop up more and more [tested]Horvath said. “We’re starting to have more discussions about the vulnerability factor versus the general use factor.”

Big employers like Amazon Stay away from the marijuana test For workers not subject to regulation by the Department of Transportation, thus expanding the pool of potential employees. State courts have increasingly ruled in favor of employees who are being sued after being fired for a positive marijuana test.

Legal but largely unregulated articles like CBD also complicate the landscape.

In 2015, a commercial truck driver for nearly 30 years File a lawsuit against the cannabis brand Dixie Having failed a random DOT drug test. Douglas Horn was working as a dangerous road driver when he consumed a CBD product that was advertised as containing 0 percent of THC, according to the complaint. He was fired after failing an exam and had trouble finding similar work.

After a lower court rejected most of his claims, Horn He resumes his case to the Second US Court of Appeals. Another truck driver, Trevor Darrow, said he took CBD gums labeled “No THC” and He ended up getting fired from his job For failed drug test. he is File a lawsuit against the manufacturer And finally settled.

Biden, at a recent White House event, made clear that the United States needs more truck drivers, saying they are “the people who literally make [the country] He runs.”

“I have nothing against the investment bankers,” Biden said, noting that they “could all retire and not much will change.” “You all quit, everything stopped,” he told the drivers.

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