Trucker’s drug conviction raises questions about CDL holders and marijuana use

January 17, 2023

Ryan Witkowski


With marijuana laws rapidly evolving at the state level, one recent court decision highlights questions about cannabis use among commercial driver’s license holders.

On Jan. 11, the Iowa Court of appeals upheld a trucker’s drug conviction for marijuana possession. The driver, Darryl Hurtt, had legally obtained the marijuana with a medical card in his home state of Missouri.

According to police reports, during a September 2021 stop for a weight violation, officers noticed the smell of marijuana coming from the cab of Hurtt’s truck. Upon questioning about the odor, Hurtt produced a small burnt “blunt” as well as three additional blunts in a glasses case. Hurtt provided officers with his Missouri medical marijuana card and stated that he only possessed the amount of cannabis prescribed to him.

According to court documents, Hurtt moved to dismiss the charges alleging his “medicinal prescription requires him to bring his medication with him due to the circumstances of his profession and not being home every night.” Furthermore, he alleged that his “right to freely travel, if unable to carry his medicinal marijuana through other states, would be violated.”

“The burden placed upon (Hurtt) is to either choose a different occupation and potentially be out of a job or to choose not to partake in medicine that was prescribed to him by a medical doctor,” attorneys for Hurtt argued. “(Hurtt) should (not) have to decide which is more important to him. He wishes to have both of those privileges when he is simply driving through a state, which is his constitutional right.”

Currently, Iowa laws have allowed for the legal sale and use of medical cannabis products since December 2018. However, those products can only be sold and consumed in certain forms. The law specifically prohibits the smoking of medical marijuana.

While the court acknowledged the state’s regulations, they ruled that Hurtt “did not possess any of these four products” and said it was not persuaded that the state’s regulation of controlled substances directly impaired Hurtt’s right to come into or leave the state.

Currently, 37 states, and the District of Columbia, have laws that permit the medical use of cannabis products. Furthermore, 21 states, as well as Washington, D.C., have enacted measures to regulate marijuana for adult recreational use. As states continue to adopt new legislation governing the use of marijuana, cannabis continues to be federally classified as a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

As such, under current regulations from the Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration, “a person is not physically qualified to drive a commercial motor vehicle if he or she uses any Schedule I controlled substance,” including marijuana. Despite the regulations, it’s easy to see how individual state laws could cause confusion for some drivers.

While Hurtt’s case does raise questions about legal marijuana regulations as they apply to CDL holders – or others traveling state-to-state – the use or cannabis by commercial drivers is still prohibited.

OOIDA’s Consortium Management Co. Inc., the Association’s drug and alcohol consortium, assists drivers in navigating the task of mandatory drug and alcohol testing. FaLisa McCannon, supervisor of CMCI, says the answer to the “can I or can’t I” question is actually pretty cut-and-dried.

“If you hold a CDL and you’re driving a DOT truck anywhere in the United States, it’s still not acceptable to partake in marijuana, regardless of what your state has in place,” McCannon told Land Line Now.

For those choosing to ignore that advice, a positive drug test could be in their future, meaning some serious consequences.

First, any positive test is reported to FMCSA’s Drug and Alcohol Clearinghouse and will be accessible by employers and government agencies for three years. Drivers with reported violations will be flagged by the system as a prohibited driver.

Secondly, those categorized as a prohibited driver are required to enter the U.S. DOT’s Substance Abuse Professionals program. McCannon says this is a lengthy process that will come with some significant costs to the individual.

“It’s at least six months. Typically you have to hire your (substance abuse professional) counselor, which is a fee. And then every test that that SAP counselor sets you up for is also a fee,” McCannon said. “And they’re a little heavier fee because when you’re in the collection site doing your testing, those tests have to be observed, where the collector has to visually see the specimen as its being produced, and it’s tested right from there. So you’re just incurring a lot of extra fees for maybe one time that you’ve hit a joint or even eaten an edible.”

McCannon says CMCI estimates the Substance Abuse Professional program will cost an individual around $4,000 to $6,000. On top of that, she says drivers could be further financially affected by additional fines, missed time behind the wheel, and possible loss of future opportunities for being marked as a prohibited driver.

As state regulations regarding marijuana continue to evolve, movement is seemingly underway for some type of reform at the federal level. In October 2022, President Biden called upon the secretary of Health and Human Services and the attorney general to “initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”

While the White House may be looking to move swiftly, those governing regulations regarding cannabis use among CDL holders say that any changes to current policy are “going to take a while.”

At a recent meeting of FMCSA’s Medical Review Board Advisory Committee, Joe Sentef, chief medical adviser for FMCSA, says it will take several agencies working collaboratively to enact any potential changes in policy.

“I don’t see it happening right away, because it’s going to be a very slow process, and it’s going to have to be an agreement between FMCSA, CVSA, HHS, and the White House,” he said. “All four would have to be on the same path for anything to change as far as marijuana is concerned.”

As we wait for those changes to possibly come to fruition, McCannon has one piece of advice for drivers.

“Just say no … It’s about the profession. It’s about keeping the roads safe,” she said. “That’s our No. 1 agenda here is to keep the roads safe from those who partake in illegal or illicit drugs.” LL