Marijuana testing for truck drivers is becoming a leading cause of the growing national trucker shortage, expert says

  • A Wells Fargo executive said drug testing for marijuana is causing a shortage of truck drivers.

  • As more states move to legalize cannabis, standards for drug testing truckers have become more stringent.

  • As of December, over 60,000 truckers have been temporarily taken off the road for testing positive for marijuana use.

While the grueling lifestyle and aging workforce has led to a national shortage of truck drivers, a Wells Fargo executive believes there's another issue exacerbating the labor crunch — marijuana testing.

According to Chris Harvey, Wells Fargo's head of equity strategy, drug screenings paired with the nature of the job — which often requires truckers to spend weeks-on-end away from home — has led many truck drivers to leave the industry. Harvey said the issue will "continue to push that price even higher," worsening a surge in transportation costs that have left consumers facing price hikes and shortages.

"It's really about drug testing," Harvey said, speaking at an industry conference on Wednesday. "We've legalized marijuana in some states but, obviously, not all ... What we've done is we're excluding a significant portion of that trucker industry."

The role of marijuana testing in employee screening has been under debate in recent years, especially as the labor shortage continues to place more power in the hands of workers. At the same time, marijuana use has become more accepted: Last year, a Gallup poll of consumer habits found that 49% of US adults have used the drug at least once. To date, 37 states have legalized the use of cannabis for medical purposes, while 18 have cleared the substance for recreational use.

But, in recent years, the trucking industry's drug policies have become even more stringent. Truck drivers are randomly drug tested on a quarterly basis, as well as in the event of an accident or traffic ticket, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. Drivers that test positive are immediately removed from driving commercial motor vehicles, per the FMCSA.

In 2020, the trucking industry implemented a law that required all truck drivers who had failed a drug test to be listed in a federal database so that other trucking companies would avoid hiring the drivers. Previously, drivers could theoretically move to a new company that would not have knowledge of the positive drug test.

The law has impacted nearly 110,000 truckers, about 56% of which were reported for marijuana use, according to government data from December 2021. These 60,000 drivers who tested positive for marijuana use in the past two years could help plug the shortage of about 80,000 truckers that the American Trucking Association has reported.

Since the database was launched, more than 6.4 million queries have been conducted on the site as of late December, as all employers must consult the database before they approve a new driver. As of December, more than 81,000 drivers were "prohibited" from work — over 75% of which had not begun the lengthy reassessment process required before they can return to duty.

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