The U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) published a proposed draft Medical Examiner’s Handbook (MEH), including updates to the Medical Advisory Criteria, in the Federal Register on August 16, 2022.  The FMCSA’s regulations provide the basic driver physical qualification standards for commercial motor vehicle (CMV) drivers, in 49 CFR 391.41 through 391.49. DOT Medical Examiners currently make physical qualification determinations on a case-by-case basis and may consider guidance to assist with making those determinations.

FMCSA stated that the goal of the updated MEH and related Medical Advisory Criteria is to provide information about regulatory requirements and guidance for Medical Examiners to consider when making physical qualification determinations in conjunction with established best medical practices. The revised Medical Advisory Criteria, in addition to being included in the MEH, would also be published in Appendix A to 49 CFR part 391. The final version of the criteria would be identical in both publications. FMCSA is proposing to update both the MEH and Medical Advisory Criteria and seeks public comment on these documents until September 30, 2022.  The draft MEH may be viewed here.

Use of CBD with 0.3% THC or Less Is Not Automatically Disqualifying

Under FMCSA regulation 49 CFR 391.41(b)(12)(i), CMV drivers are not permitted to be physically qualified when using Schedule I drugs under any circumstances. The federal Controlled Substances Act lists marijuana, including marijuana extracts containing greater than 0.3% delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), as Schedule I drugs and substances. A driver who uses marijuana cannot be physically qualified even if marijuana is legal in the State where the driver resides for recreational or medical use.

However, under current federal law cannabidiol (CBD) products containing less than 0.3% THC are not considered Schedule I substances; therefore, their use by a CMV driver is not grounds to automatically preclude physical qualification of the driver under §391.41(b)(12)(i).

FMCSA emphasized that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not currently determine or certify the levels of THC in products that contain CBD, so there is no federal oversight to ensure that the labels on CBD products that claim to contain less than 0.3% of THC are accurate. Therefore, drivers who use these products are doing so at their own risk.

FMCSA now proposes that each driver should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis and encourages Medical Examiners to take a comprehensive approach to medical certification and to consider any additional relevant health information or evaluations that may objectively support the medical certification decision. Medical Examiners may request that drivers obtain and provide the results of a non-DOT drug test during the medical certification process, if it is deemed to be helpful in determining whether a driver is using a prohibited substance, such as a CBD product that contains more than 0.3% THC.

This guidance does not impact FMCSA’s drug and alcohol testing regulations.  Use of a CBD product does not excuse a positive marijuana drug test result.

Use of Suboxone and Similar Drugs Is Not Automatically Disqualifying

FMCSA received a large number of inquiries related to Suboxone (a Schedule III drug under federal law, meaning that it has a lower potential for abuse than Schedule I and II drugs).  Treatment with Suboxone and other drugs that contain buprenorphine and naloxone, as well as methadone, are not identified in the FMCSA regulations as precluding medical certification for operating a CMV. FMCSA relies on the Medical Examiner to evaluate and determine whether a driver treated with Suboxone singularly or in combination with other medications should be issued a medical certificate. The Medical Examiner should obtain the opinion of the prescribing licensed medical practitioner who is familiar with the driver’s health history as to whether treatment with Suboxone will or will not adversely affect the driver’s ability to safely operate a CMV. The final medical certification determination, however, rests with the Medical Examiner who is familiar with the duties, responsibilities, and physical and mental demands of CMV driving and non-driving tasks.