Q&A: The Lowdown on Pot

Q: Now that marijuana has been legalized in many states, I’ve been wondering how it’s transported from places where it’s grown and processed to the establishments where it’s sold. I assume it’s handled by the same motor carriers who haul other types of restricted medical supplies under the same conditions, but can you clarify?

I gather that transportation of marijuana remains illegal under federal law, even between states where it has been legalized. But it must be legal to transport it in intrastate commerce within those states. Or am I wrong?

What about commingling intrastate loads of marijuana with interstate cargoes? Is that also legal? What about commingling marijuana with other intrastate shipments? What regulations (if any) have the various states enacted? Are there any restrictions about driver qualifications?

And how do the different states’ treatments of marijuana affect carrier routing? Is it legal for a carrier hauling marijuana from a place in one state to another place in the same state to cross state lines along the way?

A: Interesting questions. I had to do some research before I could even attempt an answer, and, in fact, the answer seems to vary from one state to another.

I focused most of my attention on Colorado as the one state that has already implemented a new law legalizing marijuana for recreational and medicinal uses. Perhaps that’s why this state seems to treat marijuana quite differently from other medicines for transportation purposes.

I believe that in most states where marijuana has been legalized only for medicinal use, your basic assumption that it can be hauled along with other drugs and medical equipment is correct: The same carriers can handle both under largely the same circumstances. That’s not the case in Colorado, however, and other states that are following Colorado in legalizing recreational use of the drug may take the same approach.

In Colorado, it seems that transportation of marijuana, while legal within the state, will have to be accomplished mainly in some form of private carriage. Under current state regulations, only those licensed to produce or sell marijuana may carry it. That pretty well rules out commercial carriers from handling this traffic, unless, of course, they get themselves special licensing in that trade.

The rules, however, do allow use of owner-operators by the licensed growers/retailers to handle the physical aspects of the transportation process. There also would seem to be no obstacle to private trucking operators from also hauling other goods for hire, and even possibly commingling the shipments.

At the same time, there are a number of other rules concerning security of the cargo while in transit. The effort is to minimize the possibility of theft or pilferage. In this regard, marijuana will be treated (in Colorado, at least) quite differently from other controlled substances, including opiates, which have some federally approved medical uses and thus may legally be transported in interstate commerce.

To answer your question about carrier routing, no, a route that would result in the carrier crossing state lines while carrying marijuana would not be legal, even if the two states had legalized the drug. For most purposes, a movement between a point in one state and another point in the same state is considered intrastate in nature even if a state line is crossed en route.

But this is not “most purposes” because of the discrepancy in federal and state law. Anyone who wanders, even incidentally, out of a state where marijuana is legal carrying the stuff is breaking federal law and is subject to prosecution. Every inch of the entire movement must be within the state where it’s legal.

I suppose that also would be true if transportation is by other modes. It’s actually legal to transport marijuana by air within Colorado, although the Denver airport has made the drug illegal there; it’s legal at other, smaller airports in the state, but I doubt if the planes may legally cross into any other state’s airspace.

One more thing:. Whether hauling marijuana or not, a driver (or pilot) may not legally be using the stuff. Drivers in Colorado are still subject to federally mandated drug testing on a periodic basis. And the laws of Colorado (as those of other states that have legalized use of marijuana) prohibit operating motor vehicles or, naturally, airplanes while under the influence.

Consultant, author and educator Colin Barrett is president of Barrett Transportation Consultants. Send your questions to him at 5201 Whippoorwill Lane, Johns Island, S.C. 29455; phone, 843-559-1277; e-mail, BarrettTrn@aol.com. Contact him to order the most recent 351-page compiled edition of past Q&A columns, published in 2010.

For the full story: Log In, Register for Free or Subscribe