Commercial Drivers Licensing Resources
For Judges

Awareness of Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) Cases Involving Marijuana for Judges & Officers of the Court

Honorable Larry Sage


The Department of Transportation (DOT) prohibits the use of certain drugs and requires periodic drug and alcohol testing for all Commercial Driver’s Licensed (CDL) holders/drivers. 

In the National Judicial College’s (NJC) Webinar on 04/18/2023, it was reported that the alcohol-related civilian driving arrests were substantial but alcohol-related fatalities were declining.  That was the good news, but the bad news included a rise in drug and marijuana-impaired driver cases.  Indeed, NJC reported the 2016 Fatality Analysis Reporting System statistic of more deceased drivers, with known test results, having drugs in their system than those with alcohol.1 

In its immediate past history, the illegal use of amphetamines was initiated to allow more driving hours to the CDL holder, and it became the CDL holder’s primary drug of choice.  That extended driving purpose was somewhat eliminated with the imposition of logbook regulations.  But illegal amphetamine use continued and became particularly tempting for truck drivers, as the increased focus and alertness that the drugs induced made it easier for drivers to complete shipments more quickly.  But it’s not the CDL holder’s primary drug of abuse anymore, and the judges and officers of the court within our court systems need to become aware of this fact. 


The NJC Webinar noted that thirty-seven (37) States and the District of Columbia (D.C.) have legalized medical marijuana, and thirty-one (31) States and D.C. legalized recreational marijuana.  Also noted were the driver increases in the use and abuse of prescription drugs, as well as the continued use and abuse of new designer drugs.   

The Federal Motor Carriers Safety Administration (FMCSA) CDL driver data (2020-2022) found that 98% of CDL testing results involved drugs, as opposed to alcohol.  In those testing results, marijuana dominated positive results more than alcohol and other drugs combined.2 

Legal Implications

It should become perfectly clear to all judges and officers of the court that the state marijuana initiatives currently have no bearing on the Department of Transportation’s regulated drug testing program for CDL holders.  The Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation – 49 CFR Part 40 – does not authorize the use of Schedule I drugs, including marijuana, for any reason. Therefore, Medical Review Officers (MROs) will not verify a drug test as negative based upon learning that the employee used “medical or recreational marijuana” when states have passed “medical or recreational marijuana” initiatives.3 

The Impact

The American Transportation Research Institute (ATRI) just launched a new survey to understand the impacts of marijuana legalization in all manner of transportation on 15 Feb 2023.4 This survey continues to April 28th this year. This is the second ATRI survey about CDL holders and marijuana.  The American Trucking Association (ATA) has already reported that increasing marijuana use in the USA prevents CDL driving time and contributes to the labor constraints post-COVID. 5 


Despite a change in state laws, marijuana is still a Schedule I Controlled Substance under the Federal Controlled Substances Act of 1970. According to the United States Department of Transportation, state laws have no impact on the testing regulations and requirements for obtaining or maintaining a CDL.  The use of marijuana by a commercial driver utilizing a CDL is therefore prohibited, regardless of whether the drug was taken for recreational or medical purposes or whether or not marijuana use was legal in the applicable state, by prescription or otherwise.  

Anyone convicted of driving a commercial motor vehicle, or a private vehicle while holding a CDL, with any amount of drug, substance or compound resulting from unlawful use or consumption of cannabis listed in the Cannabis Control Act or controlled substance listed in the Controlled Substance Act, will be disqualified from their CDL for a minimum 12 months.