A new report shows a small jump in truck driver drug violations during 2021 compared to the year before, but illegal drug use may not be the sole cause.

Data from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse shows a 10.2% increase with 58,215 drug violations in 2021. Those violations include driver refusals to submit to a test, drug test failures, and actual knowledge of a drug violation. However, 82% of the total for last year is due to positive drug tests. By far the most frequent substance identified in the positive drug tests was marijuana, followed distantly by cocaine.

The increasing prevalence of legalized marijuana for the general public has long been a concern of the trucking industry and other highway safety advocates. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 drug, federally. Under federal law, marijuana use is illegal for most everybody, especially truck drivers.

FMCSA also warned that CBD oil and cannabis “edibles” can trigger a positive drug test result because the Food and Drug Administration does not certify tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) levels in those products. If THC concentrations exceed 0.3%, those CBD products are considered Schedule 1 drugs.

The 2020 and 2021 clearinghouse results may not be a true “apples-to-apples” comparison. The FMCSA Drug & Alcohol Clearinghouse was not legally effective until early in 2020, a year when the COVID-19 pandemic strongly impacted the economy, the demand for truck drivers, and even access to drug testing facilities.

Still, drug use by commercial motor vehicle drivers remains a major federal concern. As a result, FMCSA now mandates that states pay closer attention to drug violations and take action against violators’ commercial driver’s licenses (CDLs).

The clearinghouse report also captures a major trucking industry concern. Of the 104,840 CDL or commercial learner’s permit (CLP) drivers with at least one drug testing violation, only 23,788 have completed the return-to-duty (RTD) process required to get back to driving. As of Jan. 1, 2022, 81,052 drivers failed to complete their RTD – including 61,084 who haven’t even started.

In a time of intense demand for truck drivers, the federal government has accelerated efforts to train younger drivers, and members of Congress have sought to smooth the CDL licensing process. The clearinghouse report underscores one potential source of safe, drug-free truck drivers – the 81,052 CDL and CLP holders yet to complete the mandatory return-to-duty procedure.