Drones and marijuana

In the US, marijuana, known as cannabis in other countries, can be legally purchased and consumed by any adult aged 21 and over in several US states, including Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, with over 20 states allowing the purchase and consumption of marijuana for medical reasons. However, the federal laws are different from state laws, and federal laws are much stricter when it comes to marijuana.

In the US, civil aviation is regulated by the federal government, and because the purchase, possession, and consumption of marijuana is either prohibited or severely restricted by the federal government, federal aviation regulations are very strict when it comes to Part 101 and Part 107 operations involving sUAS (drone) aircraft.

Because sUAS systems (drones) are considered civil aircraft, regulations and laws that apply to operators of manned aircraft also apply to all drone operators, whether they are flying under Part 101 or Part 107 regulations. Some of the key regulations, including possible penalties, include the following:

Flying under the influence of drugs
According to federal regulation 14 CFR 91.17, No person may act or attempt to act as a crewmember of a civil aircraft while under the influence of alcohol or of any drug that affects the person's faculties in any way contrary to safety. This regulation would apply to the remote pilot in command, and any crew member working with the remote PIC, including any visual observer and any person manipulating the controls of the aircraft.

Marijuana as cargo
According to federal regulation 14 CFR 91.19, no person may operate a civil aircraft within the United States with knowledge that narcotic drugs, marijuana, and depressant or stimulant drugs or substances are on board the aircraft, unless it is authorized by by law or by the appropriate federal agency or law. This means that drone delivery services, whether operated under Part 107 or Part 101, may be in violation of federal regulations. This would be the case even if the owner of the drone were doing so for their own personal use.

Drug related offenses
According to federal regulation 14 CFR 61.15, A conviction for the violation of any Federal or State statute relating to the growing, processing, manufacture, sale, disposition, possession, transportation, or importation of narcotic drugs, marijuana, or depressant or stimulant drugs or substances may lead to the denial of pilot certificate application, including applications for a remote pilot in command license.

A conviction could also lead to the suspension or revocation of a current license. This regulation would also apply to convictions or motor vehicle license cancellations, suspensions, or revocations related to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated or impaired due to he influence of drugs or alcohol, if that conviction occurred after 29 November 1990.

Receiving marijuana by drone
It is unclear if the recipient of drone-delivered marijuana would be in violation of state or local laws for being involved in the flight, but the recipient would likely be in violation of one or more federal laws related to marijuana. Given the federal regulations mentioned earlier, the person or persons operating that drone delivery flight would likely be in violation of one or more federal regulations. Depending on the relevant state and local laws, the recipient may be in violation of the law if possession is not allowed, or if the amount exceeds that which can be legally possessed.

Another consideration is that in those states that allow the legal purchase of marijuana, those purchases are typically limited to those businesses that are licensed to do so. Unless the person or company delivering the marijuana is authorized to do so by the relevant state or local authorities, the act of delivering marijuana may be illegal at the state or local level.

Payment for services
One of the consequences of the federal laws and regulations around marijuana is that marijuana-related services are restricted from using many common banking services such as credit cards and electronic transfers. In those states that allow the purchase of marijuana, payment is typically in cash.

Crossing state or national borders
Any commercial activity that crosses state or national borders is under the control of US federal laws and regulations. Currently, commercial drone activity (performed under Part 107 regulations) that crosses state or national borders is not not allowed. Also, anyone involved with transporting or receiving marijuana that crossed national borders would likely be in violation of drug trafficking laws.

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Drones and marijuana
http://airsafe.com/issues/drones/marijuana.htm -- Revised 23 November 2016