The recent announcement from the Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration has sparked discussions about the potential reclassification of marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule III drug under the Controlled Substances Act. This proposed shift prompts a closer look into the disparities between Schedule I and Schedule III classifications and their implications, particularly within the realm of transportation.  The new changes made by the Us DOJ are still uncertain, but it’s unlikely this change will effect the usage rules and laws in place at a state level and by your employer.

Unlike Schedule I drugs, which are categorized as having no accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse, Schedule III substances are considered to have a lower risk of physical and psychological dependence and can be prescribed. The recommendation for this reclassification stems from the Department of Health and Human Services, citing marijuana’s purported medical benefits. This proposal marks a departure from marijuana’s longstanding classification as a Schedule I drug since 1970.

For individuals operating commercial motor vehicles requiring a commercial driver’s license, adherence to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Regulations is paramount. These regulations, governed by the HHS’s Mandatory Guidelines for Federal Workplace Drug Testing Programs, currently mandate marijuana testing. However, with the potential reclassification, uncertainty looms regarding whether these guidelines will be amended to reflect the new classification.

The potential impact of reclassifying marijuana as a Class III drug on the DOT’s drug-testing regulations for safety-sensitive professions like truck driving remains uncertain. Despite the reclassification, marijuana would remain illegal in numerous states, with state laws not automatically changing. Most states, including those permitting medical marijuana, would likely need adjustments to comply with Schedule III restrictions.

Implementing changes to drug-testing regulations would necessitate further rule-making from both the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Transportation. Notably, there currently exists no standardized roadside test for cannabis impairment, posing a significant obstacle. Nevertheless, trucking companies may uphold elevated standards.

Present regulations dictate that drivers must refrain from duty or being on duty if they’ve used any substance listed in Schedule I or non-Schedule I drugs without appropriate medical guidance.

Because Schedule III drugs are still controlled substances and require a prescription, any change likely would mean recreational use of marijuana would still be prohibited.

We strongly doubt any reclassification of marijuana to Schedule III would change anything for commercial truck drivers since they are classified as a safety-sensitive occupation by the USDOT

Complicating matters further are state laws that prohibit adverse action against employees for off-duty marijuana use, even for safety-sensitive positions. For instance, California only permits termination or discipline for on-the-job psychoactive cannabis metabolite presence. This legal landscape raises questions about the interplay between federal regulations and state laws, particularly regarding employment termination and recovery of damages.

The DOJ’s proposal leaves many unanswered questions regarding DOT-required drug testing protocols. If marijuana indeed transitions to a Schedule III classification, the DOT and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will need to furnish clarity on how this reclassification affects motor carriers and their operations.