Reclassifying Marijuana Impacts Road Safety

Reclassifying Marijuana Impacts Road Safety

Rescheduling marijuana without explicit provisions for continued drug testing could compromise road safety. The ATA weighs in on the proposed deregulation.

Recent events in Washington have brought the issue of marijuana classification to the forefront, with the Biden Administration proposing to reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug—setting off what could be a seismic shift in U.S. drug policy.

As managers and decision-makers in supply chains, it is crucial to understand how this change could impact operations and workforce safety particularly for industries reliant on safety-sensitive roles, like trucking. 

Currently, the Drug Enforcement Administration classifies marijuana as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, placing it alongside substances like heroin and LSD, which are considered to have a high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use.

The proposed rescheduling to Schedule III would categorize marijuana with drugs like ketamine and codeine, which have accepted medical uses and are deemed to have a lower potential for abuse. 

Marijuana Rescheduling Must Include Provisions for Testing

This change is not an outright legalization but rather a significant deregulation for medical use. While it could streamline some aspects of medical marijuana access, it brings forth concerns, especially regarding workplace safety in industries such as trucking, aviation, and other transportation sectors where safety is paramount. 

The American Trucking Associations has voiced concerns that rescheduling marijuana without explicit provisions for continued drug testing could compromise road safety. Currently, the Department of Transportation mandates drug testing for transportation workers in safety-sensitive roles, guided by the Department of Health and Human Services Mandatory Guidelines. ATA is concerned that rescheduling could impact the DOT’s ability to continue testing. 

If marijuana is reclassified to Schedule III, it could effectively eliminate the ability of employers to test for it under the existing DOT framework. This potential regulatory gap raises significant safety issues. The ATA highlights that marijuana accounts for approximately 60% of all positive drug tests reported for regulated commercial motor vehicle drivers. Removing this testing could lead to an increase in impaired drivers, posing a direct threat to road safety and the integrity of our supply chains. 

One of the critical challenges in this debate is the lack of a reliable standard for determining marijuana impairment. Unlike alcohol, where blood alcohol concentration provides a clear metric for impairment, marijuana’s effects on cognitive and motor functions can last up to 24 hours, making it difficult to gauge real-time impairment. 

Impaired Driving Has Dire Consequences

Studies have shown that marijuana and alcohol are the most detected substances in impaired driving incidents. Legalization at the state level has already correlated with increases in crash rates. For instance, research published in the American Journal of Medicine indicated that state-level marijuana legalization led to a 6.5% increase in injury crash rates and a 2.3% increase in fatal crash rates. 

There are several recent incidents that highlight the dangers of impaired driving. Last summer, a truck driver in Indiana fatally collided with a series of vehicles, killing seven. The driver’s toxicology report showed marijuana in his system at the time of the crash. And earlier this year, in Buda, Texas, a cement truck driver who admitted to ingesting marijuana the night prior—among other drugs in the preceding hours—veered head-on into a school bus carrying pre-K children, killing one child as well as the driver of another vehicle and injuring nearly a dozen others. 

These examples highlight the dire consequences of impaired driving and reinforce the need for stringent drug testing protocols in safety-sensitive roles. 

Regulatory Approaches Must Balance Safety and Worker Rights

As supply chain professionals, we must advocate for balanced regulatory approaches that protect both public safety and the rights of workers. ATA suggests that any rescheduling of marijuana should include explicit allowances for continued testing in safety-sensitive roles. This provision is essential to maintaining the safety standards that protect our workforce and our nation’s highways. 

The potential rescheduling of marijuana presents an opportunity to revisit and refine our approaches to drug testing and impairment standards. It is imperative that regulatory bodies like the DEA, DOT, and HHS collaborate with industry stakeholders to develop comprehensive guidelines that address the complexities of marijuana use without compromising safety. 

The road ahead may be complex, but with thoughtful consideration and proactive measures, we can ensure that our industry continues to thrive in a safe and responsible manner.