4/16/2019: Marijuana use remains incompatible with sea service despite changes in state laws

Submitted by Suspension & Revocation National Center of Expertise Staff

Every year, dangerous drug use disrupts or destroys the careers of hundreds of professional mariners, threatening safety throughout the maritime transportation system at the same time. The ravages of addiction and accidental overdose make headlines daily, yet drug use among both the general population and safety-sensitive workforce continues to increase. Much of the rise is attributable to the growing use of marijuana, which has become at least partially legal in 35 states but remains criminal at the federal level under U.S. Code. Along with criminal concerns, testing positive for marijuana or any other dangerous drug triggers serious consequences for mariners, including termination of employment, removal from safety sensitive duties and revocation of merchant mariner credentials. Even in circumstances where the Coast Guard settles marijuana use cases, mariners are still required to complete rehabilitation and show a year or more of negative drug tests before returning to service.

Despite growing state legalization and a cultural shift toward greater acceptance of marijuana use and consumption of marijuana-derived products such as Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, Coast Guard and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) chemical testing continues to identify as dangerous drug users individuals with significant amounts of delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana, metabolized into their systems. While CBD itself will not cause a positive DOT test, CBD products commonly contain psychoactive THC in sufficient amounts to cause a positive drug test. Further, once THC is in a person’s system, it may remain detectible in urine samples for weeks and hair samples for months after its use is discontinued.

Whether a mariner is a cadet carelessly indulging in recreational use of marijuana in a location where it is legal at the state level or a master aboard an oceangoing vessel that used legally-obtained CBD ointment to treat bodily aches and pains, the resulting positive drug test will lead to the same cascade of negative consequences that can be difficult to overcome. Unless and until the drug testing system changes, the best decision a mariner can make is to avoid using marijuana or any products derived from marijuana that may contain THC, such as CBD oil. The threat to maritime transportation and risk of career disaster are both too great to take the chance.

The following link provides additional information on DOT chemical testing regarding recreational use of marijuana:
https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/odapc-notice-recreational-mj.pdf

The following link provides additional information on DOT chemical testing regarding use of medical marijuana:
https://cms.dot.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/images/ODAPC%20Medical%20Marijuana%20Notice.pdf

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.

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