How has state marijuana legalization affected trucking?
The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) is asking carriers a series of questions on safety and other concerns in relation to state-level marijuana legalization.
In 2019, ATRI released a study on recreational marijuana laws’ possible effects on the trucking industry. At the time, 11 states had legalized marijuana. Since then, that number has nearly doubled to 20, prompting the new study.
The original study specifically looked at safety issues brought on by an increase in passenger vehicles operated by drivers under the influence of marijuana. The jump in states joining the legalization trend prompted ATRI to revisit the subject, but this time focusing on a larger range of issues.
Previous ATRI studies have shown a correlation between an increase in drivers under the influence and laws legalizing recreational marijuana. In March 2022, ATRI’s Research Advisory Committee voted recreational marijuana as a top priority for research topics. The goal of the research is to improve the understanding of the changing environment on the road to protect both truck drivers and motorists. The confidential carrier survey is open for responses until March 17.
ATRI will include the results in a larger report focused on numerous aspects of the impacts of legalized marijuana on the trucking industry to be released midyear. The organization is also currently outlining other research for the report.
Gray areas in legalization
Despite growing acceptance for legalizing marijuana, it has thus far occurred only on a state level. Under the federal Controlled Substances Act, marijuana may not legally be used for medical or recreational purposes. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration requires regular testing of drivers for marijuana.
That bifurcated approach makes the water murky for regulators. While it is illegal everywhere to drive impaired, there is no current medical method available to definitively prove whether or not a driver is impaired by marijuana — unlike the clearer laws and detection methods regarding alcohol use. Given the possible subjectivity of a physical observation test, how are law enforcement officers able to tell with certainty if a driver is under the influence? Should carriers have to take action if a truck driver tests positive but lives in a state where recreational use is legal?
“There’s no quantitative drug testing to identify impairment,” says Jeffrey Short, vice president of ATRI. “This survey is looking at the topic in a broader sense, looking at the safety aspects, what research has been conducted on how unsafe it is to drive while impaired and have the safety statistics shifted because of legalization. Then we’re focusing on workforce issues, what’s the impact on the workforce.
“What are we expecting to uncover in the new survey — well that’s exactly what we want to hear from motor carriers. There are a lot of statistics out there, but really we need to hear from a broad group of motor carriers on what’s going on in states where it is legal and what’s going on in states where it is illegal.”
ATRI wants to observe through the eyes of carriers how road safety has changed in states where marijuana use is legal and in those where it remains illegal.
Additionally, since professional truck drivers are prohibited from using any type of marijuana, medicinal or recreational, the survey will look at whether this affects recruitment — and how trucking companies are approaching the subject with their veteran and incoming drivers.
Ultimately, researchers hope to gauge what the industry needs from both state and federal governments to operate in a world where marijuana’s legal status can be contradictory depending on jurisdiction.
Carriers interested in participating in ATRI’s survey can click here.
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