Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Holders and Cannabis Use

A recent High Times article1 noted that Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) holders are consuming cannabis more than any other drug. In fact, according to the article, the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) reported that “99% of all positive drug screens in the first half of 2020 were for drugs” and that over half (52%) of the 40,433 tests were positive for cannabis. That is not surprising when compared to rising positivity rates for cannabis nationwide, but what is surprising is the limited protections CDL drivers have.

The DOT requires pre- and post-hire drug testing for CDL drivers who perform safety-sensitive job functions. This required drug testing must be performed using urine or oral fluid and must include cannabis in the test panel. Urine and oral fluid tests can be effective when it comes to detecting some drugs but are much less effective for cannabis testing because they do not differentiate between recent use and cannabis used days, weeks, or even months prior to testing. The issue with the CDL requirements isn’t testing for cannabis, it is requiring the use of tests that cannot isolate recent use.


It seems impossible to deny that road safety is critical and that drivers who operate commercial vehicles a) carrying 15 passengers or more or b) weighing 26,001 pounds or greater, pose a high safety risk if the driver has recently used cannabis. However, drivers’ past use of cannabis – many hours, days, weeks, or months before getting behind the wheel – should not impact their livelihood. Although the FMCSA does not terminate on first offense, the required rehabilitation and return to work process can be both time consuming and expensive, oftentimes occurring when the driver is out of work. High Times points out that approximately 33% of those positive cannabis tests were, in fact, for pre-employment tests and not those that occurred while the driver was performing their safety-sensitive job functions.


As legalization continues to spread across the U.S., safety and performance remain critical for employers and for the general public. But balancing legal use and safety requires new technology, updated laws, and reinvented policies. This need for innovative drug screening is what compelled me to join the team at Hound Labs and help launch the HOUND® CANNABIS BREATHALYZER.


Not only do employers, policymakers, and regulators need to look at shifting pre-employment testing to post-hire pre-access testing, but these groups also need to integrate breath testing for cannabis into their requirements. Utilizing a cannabis breathalyzer provides benefits to many – candidates, employers, and employees – because of its unique ability to limit detection time to recent use only.

The ability to differentiate recent cannabis use from past use provides employers with the critical piece of data that is needed now that legal cannabis is available to most U.S. adults. Understanding the time when an employee used helps employers make fair decisions. Testing for recent use also allows employers to maintain mandatory drug testing which has proven to be an indispensable prevention and detection tool. Integration of the HOUND® CANNABIS BREATHALYZER into workplace testing programs provides assurance to candidates and employees that they will not test positive for cannabis used days, weeks, or months before the test.

In the era of cannabis legalization, the goal is not to eliminate cannabis testing. Instead, the goal should be re-evaluating the types of cannabis tests that are allowed so that both safety and fairness become pillars of drug testing for all employers.

September 2, 2021