Marijuana legalization is sprouting up all over the country. To date, eleven states have decriminalized the drug, also called weed, pot, dope, or cannabis, for recreational use by adults 21 and over, and 33 states permit it for medicinal purposes. In fact, more than 40 U.S. states could allow some form of legal marijuana by the end of 2020.

While legalizing marijuana has increased revenue and helped open up new employment opportunities for these states, it has not changed one important fact:  Drivers operating a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), as defined in 49 CFR § 390.5, are still prohibited from using marijuana, because of federal drug testing regulations…regardless of state or local laws.

Marijuana, including a mixture or preparation containing marijuana, continues to be classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), a person is not physically qualified to drive a CMV if he or she uses any Schedule I controlled substance.

In addition to the physical qualification requirements, the FMCSRs prohibit a driver from being in possession of or under the influence of any Schedule I controlled substance, including marijuana, while on duty, and forbid motor carriers from permitting a driver to be on duty if he or she possesses, is under the influence of, or uses a Schedule I controlled substance.

The Federal Motor Carrier Administration (FMCSA) has remained adamant that legalization of marijuana use by states and other jurisdictions also has not modified the application of the drug testing regulations in 49 CFR Parts 40 and 382. Therefore, the use of medical marijuana or recreational marijuana under a state law is not a valid medical explanation for a transportation employee’s positive drug test result, and Medical Review Officers will not verify a drug test as negative based upon learning that an employee used the drug when states have passed marijuana initiatives.

In light of the changes to state marijuana laws, it’s vital for motor carriers to update their employee driver training programs regarding federal drug and alcohol regulations, and clearly communicate to their FMCSA-regulated drivers that federal laws take precedence over state laws. It’s also important to remind drivers that not only does marijuana leave sufficient amounts of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) to result in a positive drug test, but Cannabidiol (CBD) and hemp products – even those labeled as “THC free” – often contain large enough quantities of the compound to trigger a positive result as well.

While regulations can, at times, be confusing, it’s essential for motor carriers to thoroughly understand the rules applicable to their drivers and remain current on compliance requirements in order to ensure a safe and profitable future.

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