As we reported here, the CBD (cannabidiol) craze is sweeping the nation. By 2022, it is expected to be a $22 billion per year industry. That said, if a CBD product has a concentration of more than 0.3% of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), an amount generally viewed to be sufficient to produce a psychoactive effect, then it is an unlawful Schedule I controlled substance under federal law. Problems arise when employees test positive for THC but then claim to be using a “THC-free” or “pure CBD” product. If the product has less than 0.3% of THC, and the employee isn’t smoking or using other marijuana products, we generally would expect the employee’s drug test to return a negative test result. This quagmire has resulted in employers struggling to determine the impact of these products on their workplaces. Fortunately, some employers subject to certain regulatory requirements as they relate to drug and alcohol testing sometimes benefit from clear agency guidance.

Indeed, on February 18, 2020, the United States Department of Transportation published a bulletin addressing “DOT Office of Drug and Alcohol Policy and Compliance Notice,” which follows a previous notice it had released regarding its position on medical marijuana. With respect to medical marijuana, DOT wrote in a previous bulletin:

Medical Review Officers will not verify a drug test as negative based upon information that a physician recommended that the employee use “medical marijuana.” Please note that marijuana remains a drug listed in Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act. It remains unacceptable for any safety‐sensitive employee subject to drug testing under the Department of Transportation’s drug testing regulations to use marijuana.

In the new bulletin focusing on CBD, DOT wrote that it does not require testing for CBD but also recognized the problem with some CBD products having enough THC for an employee’s drug test to report a positive marijuana test result. The bulletin states:

The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, Pub. L. 115-334, (Farm Bill) removed hemp from the definition of marijuana under the Controlled Substances Act.  Under the Farm Bill, hemp-derived products containing a concentration of up to 0.3% tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) are not controlled substances.  THC is the primary psychoactive component of marijuana.  Any product, including “Cannabidiol” (CBD) products, with a concentration of more than 0.3% THC remains classified as marijuana, a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.

We have had inquiries about whether the Department of Transportation-regulated safety-sensitive employees can use CBD products.  Safety-sensitive employees who are subject to drug testing specified under 49 CFR part 40 (Part 40) include:  pilots, school bus drivers, truck drivers, train engineers, transit vehicle operators, aircraft maintenance personnel, fire-armed transit security personnel, ship captains, and pipeline emergency response personnel, among others. 

It is important for all employers and safety-sensitive employees to know:

  1. The Department of Transportation requires testing for marijuana and not CBD.  
  2. The labeling of many CBD products may be misleading because the products could contain higher levels of THC than what the product label states. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently certify the levels of THC in CBD products, so there is no Federal oversight to ensure that the labels are accurate. The FDA has cautioned the public that: “Consumers should beware purchasing and using any [CBD] products.” The FDA has stated: “It is currently illegal to market CBD by adding it to a food or labeling it as a dietary supplement.” Also, the FDA has issued several warning letters to companies because their products contained more CBD than indicated on the product label.
  3. The Department of Transportation’s Drug and Alcohol Testing Regulation, Part 40, does not authorize the use of Schedule I drugs, including marijuana, for any reason. Furthermore, CBD use is not a legitimate medical explanation for a laboratory-confirmed marijuana positive result. Therefore, Medical Review Officers will verify a drug test confirmed at the appropriate cutoffs as positive, even if an employee claims they only used a CBD product.

It remains unacceptable for any safety-sensitive employee subject to the Department of Transportation’s drug testing regulations to use marijuana.  Since the use of CBD products could lead to a positive drug test result, Department of Transportation-regulated safety-sensitive employees should exercise caution when considering whether to use CBD products.

DOT-regulated employers should consider reviewing their current policies and practices to ensure compliance with DOT regulations, including the drug and alcohol testing rules in Part 40 and the bulletins that specifically address medical marijuana and CBD. In addition, employers in all industries may need to consider:

  • revising their policies to address CBD use;
  • training their managers and supervisors on how to address situations where an employee defends a positive drug test by claiming use of CBD;
  • educating employees about CBD; and
  • having a conversation with their drug testing providers about CBD and the lab’s drug testing and reporting processes.

Seyfarth Shaw will continue to monitor legal developments in this dynamic area of the law.