More and more states are legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. What does that mean for pilots?

  1. Is it legal for pilots to transport marijuana within states that have legalized it?
  2. Can pilots use marijuana recreationally if their state allows it? Are there implications for medicals?
  • $\begingroup$ 1. Don't know. 2. Probably need some hours of 'clean' before flying, like '8 hours, bottle to throtte" for alchohol. Except there's no test to see how high someone is that I am aware of, and people metabolize(?) it at different rates. Medicals now don't test for drunkenness or being on other drugs - would red eyes be a giveaway for having been stoned recently? $\endgroup$
    – CrossRoads
    Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 22:40
  • $\begingroup$ @CrossRoads It is not allowed legally to fly with it (see my answer). Follicle tests can detect MJ use up to 90 days after consumption. Also (not that people don't), lying on the medical about use of MJ (or any other lie) is actually a crime (imprisonment up to 5 years and up to $250,000 in fines). Medicals sort of do test for that (with your AME or if on BasicMed, your doctors interview and the form you fill out). $\endgroup$
    – Ron Beyer
    Commented Feb 3, 2019 at 22:52

3 Answers 3


Is it legal for pilots to transport marijuana within states that have legalized it?

This I'm not sure about. I can't find any FAA regulation or guideline on it, so I think it would depend more on specific state statutes. The problem would lie in going over state lines, obviously, but intra-state transport is unclear. If you were ramp-checked by an FAA inspector and had marijuana on board, they would probably require you to get a drug test, and if failed (according to the next part of this question) you would lose your license (actually your medical, you would keep the license but be unable to use it). So it may be legal to transport it, but you certainly can't be the one using it.

Can pilots use marijuana recreationally if their state allows it? Are there implications for medicals?

Negative. AME's have marijuana on the DNF/DNI (do not fly/do not issue) list:

Controlled Substances (Schedules I - V). An open prescription for chronic or intermittent use of any drug or substance. This includes medical marijuana, even if legally allowed or prescribed under state law.

While the guidance just says medical marijuana, I would suppose that it includes legal recreational marijuana as well.

Since you would be using a controlled substance on the DNF list, you would not be eligible for flying under the BasicMed either:

A diagnosis or medical history of substance dependence is disqualifying unless there is established clinical evidence, satisfactory to the Federal Air Surgeon, of recovery, including sustained total abstinence from the substance(s) for not less than the preceding 2 years. A history of substance abuse within the preceding 2 years is disqualifying. Substance includes alcohol and other drugs (i.e., PCP, sedatives and hypnotics, anxiolytics, marijuana, cocaine, opioids, amphetamines, hallucinogens, and other psychoactive drugs or chemicals)

Another way to look at it: Since pilots licenses are issued by a Federal authority, the Federal rules apply. According to Federal laws, marijuana is illegal and your license (or medical) is not valid even if the state you are in allows it legally. Marijuana is still a Schedule 1 substance (on the same level Federally with Heroin and LSD).


§91.19 Carriage of narcotic drugs, marihuana, and depressant or stimulant drugs or substances.

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, no person may operate a civil aircraft within the United States with knowledge that narcotic drugs, marihuana, and depressant or stimulant drugs or substances as defined in Federal or State statutes are carried in the aircraft.

(b) Paragraph (a) of this section does not apply to any carriage of narcotic drugs, marihuana, and depressant or stimulant drugs or substances authorized by or under any Federal or State statute or by any Federal or State agency.

This gets into the classic State versus Federal laws argument. On one hand, if a "permissive" state agency finds it, they will not have any cause to report it. If a non-permissive state agency finds it, they can take action, (fines and jail time) and in addition they can report it to the Feds.

If the Feds find it (e.g. customs inspection), or it was reported to them via a state agency; the Federal government's position is that this is a violation and can (and have) take steps to remove your licence.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ (b) seems to say carriage of drugs is legal if authorized by/under any "State statute" or "State agency". One could argue that's the case in states that have legalized marijuana, medically and/or recreationally, regardless of who finds it. But I wouldn't want to be the test case for that... $\endgroup$
    – StephenS
    Commented Feb 4, 2019 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ there is a doctrine of Federal Preemption Under the doctrine of preemption, which is based on the Supremacy Clause, federal law preempts state law, even when the laws conflict. Thus, a federal court may require a state to stop certain behavior it believes interferes with, or is in conflict with, federal law. link also keep in mind the fact that the state did not declare it legal, it simply removed the laws declaring it illegal $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 5, 2019 at 18:42

AOPA has a nice article on it here according to them even if legal you cant transport it.

As a Schedule I drug, it is treated as illegal under the FARs regardless of whether recreational or medical use is permitted by state law. Several laws and regulations address airman use, possession, and/or carriage of marijuana; the FAA further addresses it in its medical standards.

If you use it, even legally or accidentally ingest THC, and the FAA finds out they will pull your medical as was the case for this Colorado based pilot.

According to this article since the aircraft is in federal airspace its even illegal for passengers to transport it.

Can an aircraft passenger bring legalized marijuana along on a trip, say between two states that have approved legalization? How do pilots, charter companies, and airlines deal with the issue?

The answer is fairly clear. All public airports, airspace, and aircraft are governed by federal law and subject to federal law enforcement. Therefore, a passenger may never legally fly on an aircraft with marijuana or products containing marijuana. This is true even if you have a medical marijuana identification card and even if you are flying between two locations in the same state that legalizes the use. By entering the airport, you are entering a federal jurisdiction and from a federal perspective, there is no exception.


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