An unprecedented shift is taking place around marijuana, with four states and Washington, DC, now allowing recreational use of the drug by adults 21 and older. What does this mean for commercial fleets' operations, which already face big challenges recruiting and retaining drivers — the same drivers who must follow federal law?

Oregon is the latest of a handful of states to legalize recreational use of marijuana — some 23 states allow medicinal use — as of July 1. Getting caught up in the moment cost one trucking company a good employee, says Ruth Kenney, safety and compliance specialist at the Oregon Trucking Assns. 

“I do know of a company that has had some fallout with recreational use,” she tells Fleet Owner. “They had one driver who just barely, barely tested over the limit.” 

The driver wasn’t a habitual user, Kenney notes, “just someone who got caught up over the Fourth of July holiday and decided to participate” with others. Adults in Oregon are now permitted to use pot recreationally under restrictions similar to those applied to alcohol as long as it’s not in public.

The driver, however, happened to be selected for a random drug test, and failed it because he had more THC — the active ingredient in marijuana — in his system than legally allowed, according to Kenney. “With the company’s zero-tolerance policy, they lost a long-term employee over it,” she says.

In an industry where driver turnover at both large and small commercial fleets only recently dropped below 90%, according to the American Trucking Assns., the loss of even a single driver who follows the old adage, “When in Rome…,” can hurt a fleet. Certainly, one inevitable consequence of marijuana legalization is that the drug will become more available, leading to increased chances for a driver to have a lapse in judgment.

For truck drivers living in or passing through Oregon, Colorado, Washington and Alaska, for instance — the four states to date that have legalized recreational use — the social acceptance of marijuana could become similar to that of alcohol, as in “having a few beers.” As long as a commercial driver is off duty, he or she can consume alcohol in accordance with the law.

A driver can, however, be randomly tested for alcohol when going on duty or just coming off the job. If his or her blood alcohol content (BAC) tests equal to or greater than 0.04%, the driver is considered unfit to drive. Unlike marijuana, alcohol metabolizes quickly in the body, and BAC is more easily linked to both time of consumption and degree of impairment.

The U.S. Dept. of Transportation’s current required drug test method is urinalysis, which can detect pot long after a driver has stopped feeling the effects of it. And DOT has not wavered in its position regarding marijuana use of any kind — medical or recreational — since states began legalizing the drug.