The Impact of Cannabis on the Trucking Industry

When the FMCSA launched its Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse in 2020, the goal was to create better compliance and safety guidelines within the trucking industry. Carriers could report drivers with infractions for using drugs and alcohol, and the Clearinghouse would keep those entries, making it near to impossible for drivers to simply move to a new state and pick up where they left off without anyone knowing. Whether the timing could have been better is still up to debate, but since the creation of the Clearinghouse, more states across the country have legalized cannabis for both medical and recreational use. This year alone, the number of drivers who tested positive for cannabis use increased by over 9%, forcing carriers to lose more drivers and adding to the already growing workforce shortage in the trucking industry. The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse has left carriers and drivers alike frustrated and lobbying for reforms that match societal and market shifts across the United States.

Cannabis and the Clearinghouse

Cannabis does not act like alcohol. The body can process a drink and the effects wear off quickly, so a breathalyzer or urine sample will not show traces of alcohol after a few hours or the next day. The effects of cannabis will similarly wear off after a few hours, but the indicators for its use can stay in the body for weeks. This frequently gives skewed results on drug tests, often forcing carriers to lay off good drivers who may have consumed cannabis after hours or on their days off. And this is only for recreational use. Many drivers, who reside in locations where medical marijuana is legal, use cannabis products to alleviate chronic back and nerve pain, to lower anxiety and stress, and other reasons – and have medical documentation to back up their claims. Regardless of where fleet owners may fall on the morality of cannabis, inaccurate test results are having a big impact on the workforce.

The Growing Driver Shortage

More truck drivers are retiring, leaving gaps in the industry that need to be filled to keep supply chains moving. Almost everyone can agree that drinking or using illicit substances while on the road can impact judgment and lead to accidents – which we will cover in a little bit. However, more prospective drivers are deterred from pursuing a career in trucking if they might get flagged for using cannabis weeks prior to being tested. Additionally, the trucking industry is facing challenges when it comes to retaining drivers. The Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse guidelines are at odds with state-to-state legislation and overall attitudes toward cannabis, so newer drivers are looking to leave the industry and get jobs in other sectors where they will not be tested for marijuana, either medically or recreationally. Revising the guidelines for testing and reporting might help to retain drivers and attract new ones to help close the current gap.

Cannabis and Trucking Insurance

According to the ATRI, over 100,000 drivers have been removed from the road for testing positive for cannabis use. Since THC residue is left behind in the body well after use, divers can throw “positives” even if they are not under the influence. This gets even more precarious in the event of an accident. Statistics show that most verdicts in cases that involve trucks go against the divers and the carriers that employ them. The so-called “nuclear verdicts” can cost a trucking company millions of dollars, and insurance companies seem only too eager to hike their premiums. Add to this the possibility of a driver testing for cannabis long after their last use, and not only will that increase the likelihood of a nuclear verdict, but insurance rates will climb even higher, and the driver will be out of a job with their information placed in the Clearinghouse’s database. 

Paths Forward

As things stand, cannabis testing and the Clearinghouse guidelines are costing the trucking industry in terms of drivers and insurance premiums. As more states legalize cannabis use, removing marijuana as a Schedule I drug may become a reality in the very near future. If that happens, the industry will need new guidelines from the FMCSA, as well as more accurate drug testing that can indicate whether a driver is currently under the influence or how long it has been since they last used cannabis – preferably in terms of hours, not weeks.

Single Point Capital specializes in affordable insurance for trucking companies. To get the coverage your fleet needs, contact our offices today.