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Cannabis (“Pot”) might be legal in California, but only while you are on the ground

The fact that marijuana is still illegal under Federal law was reinforced against an Airman, who lost his pilot’s certificate (revocation) and will not be able to reapply for a new certificate for at least 1 year (14 CFR, Sec. 61.13d (2)).

Mr. Siegel had an engine malfunction and crashed landed his airplane on a road in Kansas. The Kansas state troopers did a routine inventory of the aircraft and found THC infused chocolate bars in his briefcase that was in the aircraft. Mr. Siegel admitted to ownership of the chocolate. Mr. Siegel stated he had obtained the marijuana legally in Colorado, and 16 months later misdemeanor charges brought pursuant to Kansas law were dropped, the FAA issued an emergency order revoking his private pilot certificate for operating an aircraft with knowledge that marijuana, an illegal controlled substance, was on board. The administrative judge concluded Siegel had violated 14 CFR, Section 91.19, but reduced the revocation to a 90-day suspension. The parties appealed to the NTSB. Siegel’s appeal claims that he had not violated 91.19. The FAA challenged the reduction of the sanction by the ALJ.

The Board affirmed the administrative judge finding that Siegel knowingly transported a controlled substance in violation of 91.19. The Board also vacated the reduction and reinstated the complete revocation of the pilot’s certificate. The Board found that the FAA’s choice of sanction, that marijuana is an illegal federal substance and that the pilot knowingly violated 91.19 (even if the quantity was very small and not transported for commercial purposes) warranted a complete revocation.

It is very unusual for an airman to take a Board’s finding on appeal before the District Court. This pilot did appeal to the Court and claimed that the revocation was inappropriate. The Court’s review is limited to determine whether or not the NTSB’s decision was arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion. The Appellate Court upheld the revocation of the license.

While it may be legal in a state to possess and use marijuana, you must be very careful in and around any aircraft, because as soon as you operate the aircraft, you come under federal jurisdiction and could lose your pilot’s certificate.