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As more states legalize or decriminalize the use of marijuana, commercial fleet operators around the country are ramping up their reasonable suspicion training as a way to manage the risk of drivers operating vehicles under the influence of the drug, experts say.
Thirty-six states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana in some form. However, it remains federally illegal and subject to U.S. Department of Transportation testing requirements for commercial driver’s license holders. Marijuana is the leading cause of license suspensions among CDL holders.
According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse — which began collecting data on CDL license holders’ positive drug tests as of Jan. 6, 2020 — of 80,000 failed drug tests collected by the clearinghouse since it went into effect, more than half were due to positive results for marijuana metabolites.
The clearinghouse requires CDL drivers and their employers to report positive drug tests and look back at least three years to identify drivers prohibited from operating a commercial motor vehicle because of a drug or alcohol infraction.
“It’s the cognitive functioning of the driver that we’re most concerned about,” said Ryan Pietzsch, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania-based program technical consultant for driver safety at the National Safety Council. “When you’re talking about commercial vehicles, CDL drivers, these vehicles are over 26,000 pounds — these are major destruction makers.”
Many fleets are “really ramping up their reasonable suspicion training for supervisors,” said Darren Beard, Kansas City, Missouri-based senior loss control consultant at Lockton Cos. LLC.
While CDL regulations require supervisors of fleets to receive 120 minutes of training on the symptoms of alcohol or controlled substance use, more companies are increasing efforts with the goal of enabling supervisors to identify potential signs of impairment both in person and over the phone, he said.
“It’s really to manage the risk — it’s not so much to find out if they were smoking marijuana three weeks ago,” Mr. Beard said, adding companies are “focusing on the impairment side of that to protect not only their liability but the motoring public.”
Fleet employers are also increasing their education about marijuana and making sure drivers also understand that CBD, which is unregulated, can contain THC that could result in a positive drug test, he said.
The concern is different for fleets that don’t require drivers to have a CDL and are therefore not subject to the drug testing regulations under the FMCSA; identifying marijuana use is even more important because of how widespread such use is, Mr. Beard said.
“A lot of our non-regulated fleet employers are having to make hard decisions about either eliminating marijuana from their drug-free testing program or eliminating drug testing altogether just to get candidates through the door,” he said.
With the competitive employment environment today, more fleet operators are also focusing on providing workers with access to an employee assistance program or substance abuse professional to retain good employees and mitigate the risk, said Nina French, president of employer and law enforcement solutions at Oakland, California-based biotech company Hound Labs Inc., which has developed technology to detect marijuana impairment.
Some are creating self-admittance policies, which allow a driver to own up to a problem and seek help through the proper channels without negative implications.
“Not every employer necessarily had that in their program before, but at this point, with such a shortage of CDL drivers, folks are taking a look at it,” Mr. Beard said.