Legal marijuana use is becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the United States, as the use of marijuana is now legal for more than twenty five percent (25%) of Americans. Eleven (11) states have already legalized the substance with 20 more on the way to doing so. While some are rejoicing at state governments’ relaxing attitude toward cannabis, the growing legalization – and popularity – of weed has caused some serious concerns and complications for the trucking industry.
The effects of marijuana impairment, which include decreased motor coordination and reaction time, challenges with multiple object tracking and spatial determination, and overall poor judgment, are clearly detrimental to the trucking industry, as these factors compromise safety for both truckers and other drivers on the road.
And it’s not just truckers – many other employees in the logistics industry, such as warehouse employees, have highly safety-sensitive jobs where impairment would be a major issue.
Furthermore, the impairment window for marijuana use is even longer than that of alcohol, as studies have shown that marijuana users struggle with the effects even 24 hours after use – even after they no longer feel intoxicated. And there is still a lot we don’t know about cannabis and how it affects safety.
Where it gets even more complicated for the trucking industry is that certain states, such as Nevada, do not allow employers to deny employment to applicants who test positive for marijuana in a pre-employment screening. While there is an exception for truckers, first-responders and other businesses that involve safety, there are concerns being raised over employers’ right to dictate what employees do in their personal time. Many in the trucking industry are worried about potential civil rights arguments over all industries’ ability to not hire anyone who is found to be a marijuana user.
As such, protecting carriers’ rights to a completely drug-free workplace is a top concern of the American Trucking Associations (ATA), and is at the top of many trucking companies’ minds. Co-chairman of ATA’s Controlled Substances, Health & Wellness Working Group and CEO of the Nevada Trucking Association Paul Enos, says: “We as an industry need to be prepared when we have this conversation.”
Enos brings up another issue – how to determine whether or not someone is impaired if they test positive for marijuana. While it is known that the drug stays in a person’s system for 30 days, there is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the lasting effects of marijuana and how long a person can actually be impaired after use. This further complicates the civil rights issue of denying employment to anyone who tests positive for marijuana and is something the trucking industry still needs to understand. ATA is currently pushing for greater research into alternative testing methods that can accurately determine if a driver is under the influence of marijuana.
Another layer of complication for trucking is that marijuana laws differ from state to state – but truckers operate across all 50 states, crossing over state borders several times in one day. Therefore, ATA states that it is necessary for the federal government to get involved in order to create uniform, nationwide impairment rules for truckers.
In the coming years, the trucking and logistics industries will be forced to identify and implement ways to ensure the safety of drivers and the public.