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The trucker’s dilemma: Should I transport equipment to marijuana facilities?


Say you’re a trucking company and/or an independent trucker asked to deliver some LED lights to a  marijuana growing facility located in one of the 10 states that has legalized recreational weed.

Should you do it? More to the point: Is it legal to transport equipment supporting a marijuana business? Even if it’s legal, is it a business risk?

The answer seems to depend on who and where you are.

“We’re in the libertine West,” said Paul Enos, CEO of the Nevada Trucking Association.  “I have members turning warehouses into growing facilities. I have a member who is producing and delivering pods where marijuana is grown. He’s making millions of dollars.”

Scott (he declined to give his last name), a manager at Bowers Trucking  in Southern Oregon — a region that voted against the state’s legalization ballot measure — has a different attitude.  He said he would not ship marijuana- related equipment, but not necessarily for legal reasons. “It’s against my ethics,” he said.

As legal marijuana penetrates the supply chain — from manufacture to distribution to delivery — carriers are starting to ask questions about the risks of delivering not just marijuana, but so called “ancillary” shipments that facilitate the industry.

The concern has to do with pot’s double classification: it’s legal in many states but illegal at the federal level.  And federal law trumps state law.

But several factors mitigate the chance of being snared by the feds: first, the Cole Memo de-prioritizes prosecution of marijuana-related activities in those states that have legalized marijuana and where state enforcement is “sufficiently robust,” and second, pot is now a multi-billion dollar business, attracting all sorts of mainstream professions like investors, lawyers, accountants and more.

“We haven’t seen it happen,” said Aaron Pelley, a Portland-based cannabis lawyer, referring to cases in which federal prosecutors have charged a transportation provider. “But if you’re asking a lawyer is it legally possible, the answer is yes.”

Even in states that have legalized marijuana, the federal government has wide latitude as to who, how and where it prosecutes.

“If someone did a buildout for a dispensary there’s an argument, tenuous though it may be, that everybody  was a conspirator in that process,” Pelley said. “That’s if you knowingly participated in transporting, say, an extraction machine, to a company you knew was going to be producing cannabis-related products.”

In a decade of cannabis practice, Pelley said he’s “never seen an ancillary company or a company providing items or products in delivery somehow be dragged to into a federal case.”

This was true even before marijuana was legalized at the state level.

Among truckers, opinion on this issue seems to be all over the map.  In an earlier article, FreightWaves noted that many couriers were upset that laws in many states prohibited them from delivering marijuana.

 But trucking, as Enos observed, is a conservative industry. And for many, the policy environment is still so new they have yet to formulate an official position.  

The state of Maine has legalized marijuana but has yet to develop regulations around its sale, said Tim Doyle, vice president of the Maine Motor Transport Association.  “I’m sure your question is something we will have to deal with in the near future.”

Linda Baker, Senior Environment and Technology Reporter

Linda Baker is a FreightWaves senior reporter based in Portland, Oregon. Her beat includes autonomous vehicles, the startup scene, clean trucking, and emissions regulations. Please send tips and story ideas to [email protected]