Ask the Experts: Marijuana and DOT Regulations

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Question: In states where recreational marijuana is legal, how does that affect federal Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations?  For example, what can we do if an employee is involved in a motor vehicle accident while on the job and tests positive for marijuana?

Answer: DOT regulations take precedence over state laws when it comes to marijuana use. Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, meaning all “safety sensitive” employees who are subject to federally-mandated drug testing are still prohibited from using the drug. This group of employees includes anyone who operates commercial vehicles, including train engineers, pilots, and school bus drivers.

The DOT has made its stance on the issue known multiple times, beginning when Washington and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012. “We want to make it perfectly clear that the state initiatives will have no bearing on the Department of Transportation’s regulated drug testing program.  The Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation – 49 CFR Part 40 – does not authorize the use of Schedule I drugs, including marijuana, for any reason,” the DOT said in a statement.

Because marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug by the United States Controlled Substances Act, safety sensitive employees are not permitted to have it in their systems at any time. Even if someone is sober when they take a drug test, the THC from the drug will be detectable in their system for up to 30 days after use. If an employee whose job subjects them to DOT regulations tests positive for marijuana, they should be removed from their job immediately and be required to work with a Substance Abuse Professional to complete the Return to Duty process in order to regain eligibility to return to work.

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