Thousands of truckers leave industry after failing drug tests, exacerbating worker shortage
Thousands of commercial truck drivers who tested positive for marijuana are declining to return to work.
According to data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, over 166,000 truckers have tested positive for a prohibited substance since 2020 as part of federally mandated drug screenings. Out of those 166,000 truckers, 100,000 tested positive for marijuana.
Once workers test positive for a prohibited substance, they are able to participate in a return-to-work system. After passing another drug test, drivers should be able to get back on the road quickly.
However, 91,000 of those who failed a drug test have not applied to return to work, an issue that could spell serious trouble in a tight labor market.
Drug-legalization activists called the policy outdated and harmful to workers who use recreational drugs off the clock.
“Times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, wrote in a blog post.
“It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality and to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat,” he said.
Marijuana is legal for recreational usage in 22 states and can be legally used for medicinal purposes in 37 states.
But under federal law, it remains a narcotic with no legitimate use and even its cultivation is illegal. The Department of Transportation has reiterated its position that it will continue to test for THC in urine no matter the state policy on the drug.
Last year, the DOT released a new policy for testing that would include saliva in drug screenings. The department still mandates that the urine of the worker be tested, with saliva now being used as a supplement.
Urine has been known to show false positives during drug screenings, due to THC sticking around in the metabolism for over a month. By contrast, THC only remains detectable in saliva for about 24 hours.
According to the American Trucking Association, despite some improvements in the shortage, the trucking industry is still short about 78,000 drivers.