Committee: USCG should just say no to medical marijuana

Mindful of the buzz about medical marijuana and the efforts to change its drug classification, the Coast Guard sought guidance on how to evaluate mariners who use it.

The Coast Guard asked the Merchant Mariner Medical Advisory Committee (MEDMAC) for help on everything from a working definition of medical marijuana to safety concerns posed by merchant mariner users.

MEDMAC’s advice: No matter what anyone else does, the Coast Guard should keep in place its ban on medical use of hallucinogens. Such use, “even if legalized by a state, is not waiverable under any circumstances,” stated Navigation and Vessel Inspection Circular (NVIC) 04-08, which lays out medical and physical evaluation guidelines.

Mariners who now test positive for marijuana are subject to a penalty and applicants who use medical marijuana will be denied credentials.

“Performing shipboard duties under the influence of marijuana, medical marijuana or medications containing marijuana poses a significant safety risk,” the committee said in documents from its recent meeting in St. Louis. “There is insufficient research on the safe use of marijuana in maritime work environments,” MEDMAC said.

Its use would also raise concerns internationally since it’s illegal in some countries.

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in August denied a petition to change marijuana’s classification from Schedule I to Schedule II. Use of Schedule II drugs, which have accepted medical applications, is legal with a prescription. DEA said marijuana “has a high potential for abuse” and has no currently accepted medical use in treatment.

“The Coast Guard will give MEDMAC’s recommendations full consideration in determining how best to proceed on the issue,” Dr. Adrienne Buggs, physician advisor/medical certification, said via e-mail. The committee’s advice that the Coast Guard not pursue a rulemaking on marijuana and stick with the NVIC “is certainly a viable option at present, since marijuana is a prohibited Schedule I substance.”

Asked how prevalent marijuana use is, she said, “The Coast Guard does not track positive drug tests, specific to marijuana. However, it is important to note that individuals who test positive for illegal use of any controlled substance are handled through enforcement action, and not through the medical certification review process.”

Likewise, the Coast Guard doesn’t track the number of applicants who have applied for a merchant mariner credential with a request to use medical marijuana, Dr. Buggs said. Medical officers surveyed “have no recollection of receiving any such application requests for use of medical marijuana.”

If the classification were changed, the committee agenda noted, “Mariners with a valid prescription for medical marijuana, who are found to have marijuana in their system during drug testing, would not have their results reported to the Coast Guard as a positive drug test. Additionally, applicants for merchant mariner medical certification who use medical marijuana would be evaluated in the same manner as applicants on any other medication.”

About the author

Dale K. DuPont

Dale DuPont has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1998. She has worked at daily and weekly newspapers in Texas, Maryland, and most recently as a business writer and editor at The Miami Herald, covering the cruise, marine and other industries. She and her husband once owned a weekly newspaper in Cooperstown, N.Y., across the alley from the Baseball Hall of Fame. A South Florida resident, she enjoys sailing on Biscayne Bay, except in hurricane season.

9 Comments

  1. Impaired is impaired and there is can be no excuses. If one chooses medical marijuana as a treatment, they should be medically excluded.

  2. If we don’t allow “Medical Marijuana” prescribed by a physician then we must revisit the drugs already prescribed and allowed. Many, very many cardiac medicines as well as diabetic and other drugs are approved and yet on the Rx bottle they warn of dangers of operating equipment. The fact is we must study in order to not be seen as ignorant as appears today.

  3. So individuals like George are part of the problem, ANY drug can cause issue even seasickness medicine over the counter. Scopolamine a generally proscribe seasickness med can cause hallicinations and a host of other issues. You can also have issues with vitamans and dietary herbals and those are not regulated and over the counter cold medicine etc.
    Blanket statemenat like Georges shows the ignorance that surround marijuana.
    You can go drinlk like a fish and 24 hours later operate a ship does not mean you are not effected but a breathalyser will show you are sober.

  4. The use of medical marijuana is now well documented and scientifically proven as effective, it is PAST time for the marine industry to get on board. I know of many Capt.s & crew that drink alcohol, do uppers, downers and Opioids both legal and not Marijuana does NoT impair a person as much as any of those or for as long, again proven by research. The marine industry is steeped in tradition, but this tradition is like not using a GPS because… “Real sailors used a sextant”

  5. Marijuana has proven medicinal benefits for everything from pain relief to aid in treatment curing types of cancers. Unfortunately the metabolite will stay in the users system for 30 plus days unlike other drugs like Cocaine, Heroin, Opiates, Amphetamine etc…. even alcohol which are metabolized and out of the users system in less than 48 hours. These aforementioned drugs are far more dangerous and addictive than marijuana. I have known of mariners that abuse these easily metabolized hard drugs specifically for that reason. What’s the USCG stance done to prevent the abuse of these illicit drugs? Not much at all.

    The Coast Guard needs to look at ways of accommodating legally prescribed use of marijuana when mariners are not actively working. Maybe that means coming up with better ways of determining if a mariner is actually under the influence of the drug and not just having the metabolite in their system from weeks or a month prior. Just ignorantly casting medical marijuana use aside as a moral turpitude issue is not an appropriate stance for the 21st century USCG to take.

  6. That is a tough one. Where is the balance, I am no one. But let me take a shoot at it. Medical user shut no operated machinery under the influence. No earlier that 8 hrs before going on duty. 5 years in jail $5000 fine for the first infraction. 25 years with out parole for involuntary manslaughter per victim.

  7. Many of the most effective marijuana medications have almost un detectible amounts of THC in them. They are bred for the specific CBD content that will produce the medical affect desired, be it pain relief for arthritis or fibromialgia (usually topically applied and not ingested) or for its cancer killing effects by breaking down the cancer cells disguise and thereby allowing the bodies natural intrusion fighters to recognize them for what they are and kill the cancer cells. These carefully bred versions of marijuana serve very specialized medical targets and do not impair judgement in any way due to the lack of the THC content. Frankly, I have not seen a test, but it seems to me that theses apitents would not trigger a failure of a normal drug test due to this lack of THC content.

  8. You have some intelligent commenters on this site, refreshing.

    I’m CG & YM licensed, I run yachts and small ships. I don’t partake but know those that do. Certainly no one should be operating anything that can harm others while under the influence of a drug. But MEDMAC is wrong to discriminate against THC & CBD simply because of their association with marijuana.

    Solution: THC/CBD get moved finally to schedule II. Then the Coast Guard and everyone can treat them like the drug alcohol or any prescription.

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