By Winslow Taylor
Between fish whistles, square groupers, and the inherent “leisure” aspect of fishing, it’s no secret that booze and other recreational substances have long since been around the sportfishing scene. I’m not condoning or promoting, it’s just a fact. If you can show me a sportfishing captain/mate who hasn’t seen some absurd behavior, I’ll buy you dinner for a month. Although booze has been legal since 1933, it’s only in the past few years that the political climate regarding marijuana legalization has begun to drastically change.
Medical marijuana was legalized in a few states as far back as the late 1990’s, but it wasn’t until 2012 that recreational marijuana became legal in Colorado. Since then ten states have legalized recreation marijuana, and of those ten states, seven border the ocean or a navigable body of water (Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, California, Maine, Rhode Island, and Michigan).
What does this mean? It means that many folks where marijuana is “legal” are avid boaters/fishermen and hold USCG merchant marine credentials. As a result, many may not understand the ramifications of marijuana’s use on themselves, their license(s), and vessel operation in navigable waters.
Legality of Marijuana
First off, I think it goes without saying, DO NOT USE ANY IMPAIRING SUBSTANCE while operating a vessel (or vehicle). It doesn’t matter if it’s a 9’ tender or a cruise ship – DON’T do it! Not only do you jeopardize your passengers and crew, but also the vessel, your license, your employment, and possibly your freedom. Where marijuana use is state legal, it’s STATE legal. Meaning if you finish up washing the boat in California and fire up a joint, you are not breaking any California laws. Again, don’t operate a vehicle while stoned, but you aren’t breaking any state laws onshore.
The problem is that marijuana is still illegal on the federal level. At the risk of preaching to the choir, the United States Coast Guard is a federal agency that enforces both federal and state laws on the water. It’s important to note that federal law supersedes states law. So, what does that mean?