Risk & Safety

Marijuana Laws & DOT Compliance

Sam Bowman
Marijuana Laws and DOT Compliance
Reading time 3 Mins
Published on Oct 19

Over the past decade, marijuana use has become more widely accepted by the mainstream and marijuana laws are changing to adapt. Many states have approved full or partial legalization, while other states have settled on only decriminalizing use and possession. There are only a handful of states where marijuana remains fully illegal.

At the federal level, marijuana is still illegal. This prohibition means that federal criminal justice implications are still a possibility, even in states where marijuana has been legalized.

With vast differences in legality between state and federal governments, marijuana remains an uncertain gray area for most employers. This uncertainty is compounded for businesses who are subject to Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. Let’s take a look at how these companies and their CDL holders are affected by varying marijuana laws.

Correlation between State Law & Federal Compliance

Marijuana, including mixtures or preparations containing marijuana, is still classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance (see 21 U.S. Code 812 Part 1308). Under Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs), an individual is not physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if they use any Schedule 1 controlled substance, such as marijuana (see 49 CFR §§ 391.11(b)(4) and 391.41(b)(12)).

In addition to the physical qualification requirements, the FMCSRs prohibit a driver from being in possession of or under the influence of any Schedule 1 controlled substance, including marijuana, while on duty. They further prohibit motor carriers from permitting a driver to be on duty if they possess, are under the influence of, or use a Schedule 1 controlled substance (see 49 CFR §§ 392.2 and 392.4).

Medical Marijuana & DOT Compliance

Even if current marijuana laws in the individual’s state allow for medical use when approved by a licensed physician, federal law remains clear—use by individuals operating commercial motor vehicles is prohibited. Marijuana is a psychoactive drug and can impair memory and learning ability, distort perceptions of reality, and can cause slowed thinking and problem solving, and a loss of coordination and motor skills. These effects are one of the main reasons why the drug and its use remain strictly prohibited under federal law.

DOT Drug Testing & Marijuana Laws

State or other jurisdictional marijuana laws approving use do not modify the application of U.S. DOT drug testing regulations under 49 CFR §§ 40 or 382. When a CDL employee undergoes any type of drug testing, whether it be pre-employment, post-accident, or return-to-duty, a Medical Review Officer (MRO) is required to note a failure if test results indicate marijuana is present. Again, this is regardless of any recommendation or referral by a licensed physician.

Marijuana Laws, DOT Compliance, & Sheakley

The variable, and often contradictory, nature of state and federal marijuana laws makes DOT compliance confusing and complex. Current regulations do not require employers to abandon zero-tolerance policies or take drug testing results out of the hiring or dismissal process. As marijuana laws continue to change, exactly how employer policies will ultimately be impacted remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Sheakley’s Risk & Safety experts can provide you with the assistance you need to create training programs and workplace drug & alcohol policies that maintain your compliance, achieve your safety goals, and keep your employees safe. Contact us today to get a free consultation with one of our compliance experts.

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