For this month’s column, I want to discuss something that I’m sure nobody in the industry has ever addressed (place tongue firmly in cheek here). We’re going to talk about marijuana and the trucking industry. (Yes, I know others have talked about the subject at great length — hence, the tongue-in-cheek reference.)
Now, before you all start jumping to conclusions about me, there are a few things you need to understand. First, I went to college in the ’80s (read into that whatever you want). Second, I want our roads to be safe at all times and our industry’s drivers to be the safest on the road. With that in mind, I have no tolerance for drunk drivers, stoned drivers, distracted drivers or drivers who do not act or drive like a professional. Honestly, I just don’t.
So, with that said, how do we reconcile the current state of the world in regard to recreational/medical marijuana usage and trucking?
Quite simply, I am not sure we can, at least not right now.
As background, and according to a recent ATRI report, 49.8% of the general population — and 41.4% percent of truck drivers — live in a state where recreational marijuana use is legal. These figures are up from 24.5% and 18.5% from 2019. In addition, according to ATRI, 59% of Americans support both medical and recreational marijuana legalization, while only 10% are opposed to any form of marijuana legalization.
However, marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug. This classification includes heroin, ecstasy and LSD. This means that, regardless of any state’s position, marijuana use is prohibited by federal law. And, since trucking is a heavily regulated industry, this means marijuana use is expressly prohibited, regardless of the state’s position. This creates a problem with the enforcement of federal laws and presents numerous employment issues for carriers.
So where does this put us? I really am not sure. I think the growth of medical/recreational marijuana is going to continue, and it will continue to permeate our industry. The question becomes: How can we determine if a driver is operating while under the influence of marijuana?
As you know, every state has laws dealing with alcohol- and drug-impaired driving. But unlike laws for drunk driving, laws addressing driving while stoned vary substantially.
The two primary approaches are behavior based (think field sobriety test or a test conducted by a DRE) and biology based. The biology-based test measures the concentration of THC in a driver’s blood. Three states have laws where anything greater than 0ng/ml shows impairment. Four states have limits of 5ng/ml, while 10 other states use a positive metabolite test. However, in this test, metabolites could be present several weeks after using marijuana. In addition, some people may have a higher tolerance for marijuana than others.
So, as you can see, there is no standard test to determine actual impairment resulting from marijuana use. However, many researchers believe the behavioral approach to documenting impairment is the most promising solution.
With that in mind, at a recent conference, I had a very interesting conversation with PJ Barclay, a native of South Africa who now lives in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Apart from being a South African in the great white north, PJ leads the team at Impirica that has developed and commercialized a series of solutions that help the transportation, medical and law enforcement communities with validated solutions that actively measure the risk of impairment.
With specific reference to transportation, PJ’s solutions have a cognitive screen, called Vitals, that actively measures a driver’s risk of impairment. This measurement of risk empowers decision makers to proactively respond to the identified risk. The Vitals screen was designed and validated to engage the brain in the same way it would be while driving — which provides a predictive metric of driving risk.
While the Vitals cognitive screen is designed to measure impairment associated with the use of cannabis, the screen itself is agnostic to cause, meaning it focuses less on the cause of impairment and more on whether the driver is fit for duty. With performance as the focus instead of the cause, Vitals has applications beyond cannabis use and addresses a multitude of factors that could render a driver impaired.
What I found most fascinating about the conversation is that Impirica’s solutions have already been validated and are currently in active use.
At the end of the day, I am not a scientist or cognitive researcher. Hell, I don’t even play one on TV. With that in mind, I don’t know if Imperica’s device is the answer to determining impairment. I just think that, as recreational/medical marijuana use continues to expand, we need to think outside the box and develop a roadside test that can accurately determine impairment. To that end, I applaud PJ and others who are working to make this happen.
In closing, I acknowledge that I have glossed over many facts related to marijuana use, testing, impairment and a million other things. There is simply not enough space to cover every issue in the space allowed!
Brad Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd. and is also president of Driver’s Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to services at discounted rates. For more information, contact him at 800-333-DRIVE (3748) or interstatetrucker.com and driverslegalplan.com.
Brad Klepper is president of Interstate Trucker Ltd., a law firm entirely dedicated to legal defense of the nation’s commercial drivers. Brad is also president of Driver’s Legal Plan, which allows member drivers access to his firm’s services at discounted rates. For more information, contact him at (800) 333-DRIVE (3748) or interstatetrucker.com and driverslegalplan.com.