A CDL is a commercial driver’s license and is a mandatory requirement if you wish to drive a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV). There are three classes of CMV depending on weight, and you need a CDL to drive any of them. In specific states, you may also need a CDL to operate certain vehicles. In New Jersey, for example, you need a commercial driver’s license to drive a van for hire (which is designed to transport 8-15 passengers), a limousine, or a bus.
CDL’s are generally associated with truck drivers, and America has a significant shortage of them. Companies such as Walmart and Amazon are in dire need of drivers to bring their goods across the country, but according to the American Trucking Associations (ATA), we need at least 51,000 more truckers to meet demand.
Even though it is a job that can now pay in excess of $80,000, an increasing number of Americans are turning away from the role because of the rough lifestyle. Sitting behind the wheel and feasting on roadside café food is not conducive to good health. To be fair, the ATA says there are 3.5 million professional truck drivers in America, so it isn’t an industry that everyone is fleeing from.
After spending weeks driving across the United States, it is only natural that a truck driver may want to wind down once he gets home and light up a relaxing joint. After all, he is off-duty now, and (presumably) lives in a state where weed is medically or recreationally legal; right? Wrong! It is a confusing situation, but if you hold a CDL, it isn’t wise to apply for a medical marijuana card. Here’s why…
Why Would a Truck Driver Need a Medical Marijuana Card?
It is easy to dismiss the job of a truck driver as an ‘easy’ one. Some in the industry believe it is one of the best jobs you can get in the U.S. without a college degree, but don’t assume it is as simple as getting behind a wheel and driving. It is common for long-haul drivers to spend several days driving cargo thousands of miles. Imagine spending nights in motels, and stopping only to eat substandard gas station food.
Incorporating movement into your life at regular intervals is important. Given the deadlines faced by truck drivers, it isn’t as if they can stop the truck and hit the gym on the way to their destination! The job is also associated with being obese; hardly a surprise, since drivers often combine little or no exercise with high-calorie food. Associated medical conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes could also come into play.
Additional medical issues include stress, sleep apnea, depression, lung problems, and fatigue. All of a sudden, it becomes extremely easy to see why the holder of a CDL would need a medical marijuana card. If you have a CDL and believe you need an MMJ card, you can apply for one and get accepted, but you need to tread very carefully or else you could lose your job.
CDL & MMJ Cards Don’t Mix
If you hold a CDL and live in a state with a medical marijuana program, you can follow the steps required to apply for the application. If you have a qualifying medical condition, there is no good reason for a physician to refuse to give you access to medical marijuana. You are entitled to your MMJ card even if you have a CDL, but you can wave goodbye to your career if you ever test positive for marijuana.
The United States Department of Transportation (DOT) left little to interpretation when discussing the use of medical marijuana. The DOT explicitly states that its ‘Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation’ does not allow the use of medical marijuana under state law (49 CFR Part 40). The DOT says holding an MMJ card is not a valid medical explanation if a transportation employee tests positive for any prohibited drug.
Remember, even though weed is legal for medical and/or recreational purposes in 33 states plus D.C., it is STILL federally illegal. The DOT, of course, is a federal employer which means the use of a Schedule I drug means ‘safety sensitive’ employees are not allowed to have it in their systems at any time.
The rules governing CDLs involve state and the feds, and the latter has set the rules since 1986 with the implementation of the Commercial Motor Vehicle Safety Act. As a result, it is the United States Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration that is in charge of drug testing policies. Therefore, it is a very bad idea to use medical marijuana if you have a CDL.
If you have a CDL and wish to drive a CMV, you must first pass a pre-employment drug test. It is common for drug and alcohol tests to be administered after crashes. Also, CDL drivers can be randomly tested throughout the year, and it is legal for your employer to immediately test you if they believe you are potentially under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Anyone who refuses to take a drug or alcohol test is automatically deemed to have failed. A test failure or refusal to participate will result in your CDL being suspended until you have completed the ‘return-to-duty’ process with a DOT-qualified substance abuse professional.
Once you have a failed drug or alcohol test on your record, you may find it hard to get another job for up to a year, sometimes longer. Also, your employer is NOT obligated to hire you back even if you complete the return-to-duty process. At best, you will lose tens of thousands of dollars in earnings. At worst, your driving career could be over.
Taking the Risk with CDL and MMJ
At Marijuana Break, we do NOT advocate a CDL holder risking their license, and possibly their livelihood, by using medical marijuana. The problem is, truck drivers CAN legally apply for, and receive, a medical marijuana card. You need to fill in some personal details, arrange an appointment with a physician legally allowed to provide MMJ certification and explain your medical issues.
If the doctor believes you are eligible for a medical marijuana card, you will be certified. Once you have your state MMJ card, you can legally purchase a certain amount of cannabis for a licensed dispensary. All of the above happens whether you have CDL or not. The issue occurs when you start using the weed. At that point, you are just one random drug test away from ruination.
It is a bitter pill to swallow for the nation’s truck drivers, especially in a state such as Maine where employers are not allowed to fire existing employees, or refuse a job applicant, for testing positive for marijuana on a drug screening. However, once again, federal law trumps state law, and practically all modes of transportation; trucks, airlines or pipelines, face the same DOT drug testing requirements.
The reason why using weed as a CDL holder is risky is due to the length of time it stays in your system. The most common form of drug screening is a urinalysis. As the name suggests, you urinate into a cup, and the sample is tested for various drugs. As far as weed goes, testers are looking for THC-COOH metabolites.
It is possible for the metabolites to stay in your system for several days even if you are a one-time user. For moderate users (four times a week), the weed can stay in your system for up to a week. It can take up to 11 weeks for cannabis to fully leave your system if you are a chronic daily user and suddenly stop taking the herb.
Picture the scene: You have completed a sequence of grueling journeys and have a few days off to relax. You light up a couple of joints and enjoy your well-earned time off. Four days later, you are behind the wheel again, but not before facing a random urinalysis. It is likely that you will test positive and lose your CDL. Is it fair? Probably not, but that’s the way it is as long as marijuana remains a federally illegal substance.
Final Thoughts on Getting an MMJ Card with a CDL
In one sense, the need for CDL holders to have clean systems is perfectly understandable. They are in control of extremely large and powerful vehicles capable of causing huge destruction if poorly handled. No one should ever be under the influence of marijuana (or alcohol) when they get behind the wheel. If you are stoned while driving, you deserve the punishment you receive if caught.
However, it is unfortunate that CDL holders with legitimate medical concerns are not allowed to feel the relief potentially provided by marijuana. As THC-COOH metabolites remain in the system for days, or even weeks, after use, a commercial motor vehicle driver is unable to take so much as a puff of a joint for fear of being caught out by a random drug test a few days later.
The nation’s drivers have a tough job and are susceptible to medical problems, the symptoms of which could be alleviated by medical marijuana. You can get a medical cannabis card if you have a CDL, but you are taking an enormous risk. Some drivers believe that if they use one of the popular detoxing THC methods they see on the Internet, they will avoid detection.
The truth is, none of those tactics are guaranteed to work, no matter what forum ‘experts’ claim. If you get an MMJ card and use weed, even during your downtime, your CDL is constantly at risk.