Legal state, federal oversight – Industrial workers seek cannabis guidance

Industrial workers seek cannabis guidance - Photo of semi truck cabs lined up.

The decision to consume cannabis can be deeply personal, social, or medical– there’s a wide range of reasons people are drawn to the plant. Medical patients with chronic pain, PTSD, insomnia, depression, and anxiety have sought cannabis prescriptions, often over pharmaceutical alternatives. Industrial workers have been opting to use cannabis to wind down after a long, stressful day trucking or relieve the physical pain from a day job like mining. Unfortunately, cannabis use is still prohibited for many working these jobs—even if they consume it legally.

Truckers are testing positive for cannabis in record numbers.

The U.S. Department of Transportation showed that 10,276 truckers tested positive for cannabis in 2022. That same year, The American Trucking Association reported a shortage of 78,000 truckers.

These numbers both trend down from previous years, but USDT data also shows that more than half of the 119,000 truckers prohibited from driving due to a positive drug test have not attempted to return. Truck drivers who test positive for federally-prohibited substances like marijuana, cocaine, and methamphetamines cannot return until completing a “Return-to-Duty process and testing.”

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration process to return to trucking includes an evaluation with a substance abuse professional, participation and completion of a treatment program, a passed drug test, and a documented follow-up testing schedule. Rather than go through this process, many truckers who tested positive for cannabis are opting out of the profession.

With a shortage of truck drivers on the road and a surplus of drivers seeking guidance on using cannabis products safely and legally, it may be time to rework regulations and protocols. For example, urine testing for cannabis is not an accurate way to identify if someone is under the influence on the job, yet this remains the testing method for truckers. This testing protocol makes it too risky for truck drivers to consume on their off-time and vacations.

Regulatory efforts toward safe access for truck drivers

Rep. Earl Blumenauer penned a letter to Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg in May 2022 requesting the adoption and development of more accurate cannabis testing. In December 2022, the National Transportation Safety Board released a Safety Research Report citing issues with the efficacy of THC testing protocols in the industry.

By February 2023, the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure asked the President and CEO of The American Trucking Association (ATA) about cannabis use among truck drivers. Spear asserted that the ATA’s main concern was not having impaired drivers operating an 80,000 lb. vehicle and urged lawmakers to find a way to regulate safe cannabis use.

“This is an issue that, I pose to you all, we’ve got to work on,” he said.

Earlier this month, the American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) called for truck drivers to fill out a survey to understand the impact of cannabis prohibition on the industry. ATRI distributed the Survey to 300 drivers at the Mid American Truck Show in Louisville, KY before putting it online for additional coverage. The survey seeks to understand driver’s knowledge and perspectives of the state laws and how they impact roadway safety.

Other industries affected by regulatory opacity

Trucking isn’t the only federally regulated workforce grappling with medical and adult-use cannabis among workers. Earlier this month, Australian Broadcasting Center News reported on miners in Western Australia. Mining employers are standing down multiple employees based on medical cannabis consumption. Stand downs are processes under the Fair Work Act in which an employee can be removed from their job with or without pay for various reasons like “work stops for a reason that the employer can’t be held responsible for.”

The report cited an anonymous source stood down by a Fortescue Metals Group (FMG) site until resigning. FMG has a zero-tolerance drug policy, and the source claims the company required that they test below 50 nanograms per liter– a tiny amount.

The Western Australian Parliament released a report the same day the ABC News article was published. Sixteen recommendations for updating medical cannabis programs were included, such as directing the Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety to create and distribute education to employers on the difference between medical and adult-use cannabis, how THC does and does not impair workers, and a recommendation that employers treat cannabis like other prescription medications. The report also made recommendations to amend railway cannabis protocols, raise THC prescription limits, and update impaired driving laws.

People from all walks of life are turning to cannabis to manage chronic pain or get a good night’s rest– but some are subject to prohibition due to the federal oversight at their job. In the U.S., regulators are slow-moving toward better testing methods for truck drivers. Western Australia’s action for medical patients, on the other hand, seems swift in comparison as the country’s industrial workers seek cannabis prescriptions. Cannabis legalization taking hold in various forms is challenging regulators to understand the cannabis plant and its effects– though some move more quickly than others.

Cara Wietstock is Senior Content Producer of and has been working in the cannabis space since 2011. She has covered the cannabis business beat for Ganjapreneur and The Spokesman Review. You can find her living in Bellingham, Washington with her husband, son, and a small zoo of pets.