ATA Critical of Proposed Federal Downgrade of Marijuana

Trade Organization Fears Possible Drug-Testing Implications
marijuana vape
The Drug Enforcement Agency has proposed to downgrade the classification of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III. (KampolG via Getty Images)

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American Trucking Associations has expressed safety concerns over a U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency proposal to downgrade the classification of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, a less serious category.

In a May 15 letter to top federal transportation, health and legal officials, ATA said it is “alarmed by the possibility that certain industries could be prohibited from screening for drug use by workers performing safety-sensitive roles.

“If the trucking and broader transportation industries’ ability to conduct drug testing is restricted, the risk of impaired drivers operating on our nation’s roadways undetected would increase, endangering all who share the road,” ATA’s letter warned.

The DEA’s proposed downgraded placement of marijuana on the list is based upon such factors as the substance’s medical use, potential for abuse, scientific evidence of its pharmacological effects and safety or dependence liability as defined in the federal Controlled Substances Act.

DEA said its proposal, announced May 21, also was consistent with the expressed view issued last year by the Department of Health and Human Services.

ATA Letter Marijuana Rescheduling

The DEA proposed rule did not directly address the subject of future drug testing by federal agencies.

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration in a statement to Transport Topics said, “Please note that the proposed rulemaking must be reviewed by the White House Office of Management and Budget, and then undergo a public comment period and subsequent review from an administrative judge. As such, it would be premature for FMCSA to speculate on the impact of this proposed rulemaking.”

In its letter, ATA expressed concern that if the rulemaking were to advance without appropriate regulatory review, oversight and deliberation it held the potential — depending on outcome — to severely curtail the ability of motor carriers and other employers of safety-sensitive positions to maintain a safe working environment, threatening the safety of all road users.”

Dan Horvath


ATA’s letter was authored by Dan Horvath, the trade organization’s senior vice president of regulatory affairs and safety policy.

The DEA’s rule proposal triggered a 60-day period for public comment, through July 22. At press time, there already had been more than 6,000 comments on the proposal. They ranged from comments that the rule “is a horrible idea, this should remain in Schedule I. Marijuana is a gateway drug and ruins lives,” to “This rescheduling does not do enough to rectify the unjust limitations put on the freedoms of the American people to ingest what they please, how they please. Autonomy is not up for vote.”

DEA said it will likely be months, or possibly longer, before a final determination is issued. “During that time, marijuana will remain a Schedule I controlled substance,” it said.

DEA and HHS last examined the issue of whether to reschedule marijuana in 2016, when DEA denied two petitions to reschedule marijuana. “At the time, HHS concurred that marijuana should remain a Schedule I drug because it met the three criteria for placement in schedule I,” the current proposal said.

The recent increase in marijuana use in general and among truck drivers specifically is believed to have caused an exodus of drivers from the industry. Some of the most common drugs that can disqualify a driver include amphetamine, codeine, fentanyl, hydrocodone, methadone, morphine and marijuana.

When a driver tests positive for use of marijuana or any of the 14 drug panels tested, he or she can be disqualified from driving. To get back behind the wheel they are required to complete a return-to-duty protocol.

Widespread use of marijuana, currently legal for recreational use in 24 states and for medical use in 38 states, is believed to have created more general societal acceptance of the drug.

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In its cautionary letter, ATA cited a case from last summer of a truck driver in Indiana colliding with a series of vehicles, killing seven. The driver’s toxicology report ultimately showed marijuana in his system at the time of the crash.

The federation also cited a case from this year in Buda, Texas, where 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-kindergarten children, killing one child, as well as the driver of another vehicle and injuring nearly a dozen others.”

“Rescheduling marijuana without an explicit drug testing carve-out for safety-sensitive workers could ultimately lead to more devastating tragedies like these and add to the ever-increasing death toll on our nation’s roadways,” ATA said.