A generation ago, prevention campaigns referred to marijuana as the “gateway drug.” Once you smoke, it will only be a matter of time before you use harder drugs. For a generation, that perception worked as a deterrent for many.
But society has changed in recent years. The stigma attached to marijuana isn’t as negative as it once was. Many see smoking marijuana as being better than drinking alcohol. It’s being used more and more for medicinal purposes, and some states have legalized recreational use.
Only a handful have legalized recreational use, but over 20 have approved it for medicinal purposes. More are looking to do so in the near future (or at least discussing the possibility).
With the social perception and laws changing so much, it stands to reason that some pressure may be applied to loosen Coast Guard restrictions on marijuana use as they relate to the maritime industry. If it is legal shoreside or prescribed by a doctor why should it be such a big deal?
The answer to that is the same thing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says when asked about the NFL’s drug policy. The federal government still considers marijuana a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act which makes it illegal. If the feds think it’s illegal, he (and the NFL) treats it as illegal.
The Code of Federal Regulations is pretty clear on the position the Coast Guard is to take regarding drug use (46 CFR 16.201(c).):
“An individual may not be engaged or employed, including self-employment, on a vessel in a position as master, operator, or person in charge for which a license or merchant mariner’s document is required by law or regulation unless all crew members covered by this section are subject to the random testing requirements of this section.”
But times change, right? That’s why the laws shoreside are changing. Shouldn’t they change on the high seas as well? The Department of Transportation and U.S. Coast Guard don’t think so.
In 2012, the DOT stated its stance regarding state initiates and how they could impact how they perceive marijuana. A couple of years later, the Coast Guard reaffirmed the DOT’s position: “As such, Medical Review Officers will not verify a drug test as negative based upon learning that the employee used “recreational marijuana” or “medicinal marijuana.”
Over the last couple of years, more states have loosened their laws and regulations regarding marijuana. But the Coast Guard’s position remains the same.
When asked for a comment, Patrick Mannion, the Coast Guard’s Drug and Alcohol Prevention and Inspection Program Manager, responded via email:
“Marijuana positive reports to the Coast Guard have been increasing. There has been no change to Federal Law that allows for the use of marijuana by mariners. While some states have enacted recreational or medicinal use of marijuana, these state laws provide no excuse to a mariner when they have a positive drug test result from marijuana that is reported to the Coast Guard.”
Another Coast Guard representative referred to a recent case as an example of the Coast Guard’s zero tolerance policy. A 70-year old mariner tried to blame the military for his use and said he needs it to survive. He still ended up surrendering his credentials, and the judge issued an order of revocation.
A representative from one of the state maritime academies said there is zero tolerance for use among students. It doesn’t matter if it was legal according to state law where they used it:
“The same is true of our maritime cadets who may be visiting back home in Colorado or California or whatever. We don’t care if it was okay over there, the coast guard says if it is in your system while you are a cadet and tested, you are gone.”
But doesn’t state law protect people? Isn’t the purpose of those laws to make it legal for people to use? Yes, but what the mainstream media often fails to tell people is that the state regulations often stipulate that the law does not protect jobs.
The law can make it legal for you to smoke as far as the police are concerned. But the law can’t force employers to allow it whether the use is recreational or medicinal.
The law is clear when it comes to marijuana and the maritime industry. Don’t do it if you want to ship out. Proponents of marijuana use will call that unfair. But it is not like the stakes are small if someone were to make an error at sea. There is the potential for millions of dollars in damages to the ship and cargo if a collision occurs. There is also the potential for loss of life as well as severe harm to the ecosystem.
Would you feel safe if your cruise ship captain was high? Probably not.
It will likely not matter if the federal government were to loosen restrictions on marijuana. The high seas are dangerous enough as they are; there is no need to make them more dangerous by allowing drug use of any kind. A number of maritime professionals said as much in an informal Facebook survey.
“If you want to use marijuana, the maritime industry is not for you. Find another job. “