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On a Boat? Cannabis Is Still Illegal, US Coast Guard Says

July 25, 2017
Planning on grabbing a vape pen for an afternoon on the water? Rolling a joint for your next fishing trip? Thinking of floating the river with an infused soda in hand? Think again. According to the US Coast Guard, it remains illegal to consume while on a boat in US waters—even if you’re in a state that has legalized cannabis.

State laws around the plant might have changed, District 13 (Seattle) Petty Officer 2nd Class Ali Flockerzi told Leafly, but federal law still prohibits the production, distribution, possession, and consumption of cannabis.


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That’s true on land, too—cannabis remains illegal under federal law. But in many legal states, you’re more likely to run into a federal agent on a boat than on the sidewalk.

“The Coast Guard enforces federal laws within all navigable waters of the U.S. along with federal partners operating under guidance from the Department of Justice,” Flockerzi said. “If you are boating on open water in Washington State, you come under the jurisdiction of both Washington State and federal law, which is enforced by the Coast Guard.”


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On top of the fact that cannabis itself is federally illegal, it’s also illegal under both state and federal law to operate a boat while under the influence of any substance.

“Operating a boat while under the influence of ANY drugs or alcohol is considered boating under the influence (BUI),” Flockerzi told Leafly. “Boating under the influence is not only unsafe but also illegal in every state, and the Coast Guard and every state have stringent penalties for violating BUI laws.”

A BUI also counts as a prior offense if a person were to be convicted of a DUI.

“Under the DUI sentencing laws, anyone with BUI or reckless boating convictions on their record that is later convicted of a DUI will have the BUI treated as a prior offense,” Flockerzi said. “Making a DUI a prior can dramatically increase penalties for somebody later convicted of DUI, vehicular assault or vehicular homicide.”


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Penalties can include jail time, large fines, suspension, or revocation of boat operator privileges.

The law pertains to the operation of all boats, from canoes to catamarans, and includes foreign vessels that operate in US waters as well as US vessels on the high seas.

And while you may have privacy rights that protect your car from an unwarranted search, the Coast Guard can board your boat at any time—both in US waterways and on the high seas. So if you live aboard a boat, it’s still technically illegal for you to hold cannabis on the boat.


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The Coast Guard Boarding Policy states:

Title 14 Section 89 of the United States Code authorizes the U.S. Coast Guard to board vessels subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, anytime, any place upon the high seas and upon any waterway over which the United States has jurisdiction, to make inquiries, examinations, inspections, searches, seizures, and arrests. The U.S. Coast Guard does not require a warrant to conduct search, seizures, arrests over any United States Waterway or high seas. The U.S. Coast Guard also have full legal law enforcement power on any land under the control of the United States, as needed to complete any mission.

Gage Peake's Bio Image

Gage Peake

Gage Peake is a former staff writer for Leafly, where he specialized in data journalism, sports, and breaking news coverage. He's a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln's College of Journalism and Mass Communications.

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  • Robert Gerus

    That’s because there f%$king idiots, even if it becomes legal they will find a way to f%$k you, their all wana-bee cops and authority goes to their heads and they think like pencils, If you want to see them in action just watch Border Security on all A & E channel or History channel. So of them are kind of smart but most are real stupid. And Yha!!!! they will bust your ass for medical marijuana, isn’t that a f%$king joke. Do they go to school to be a border guard, beats me. If you ever go the Canada or the good old USA, please leave your f%$king drugs at home and have none with you because they will bust your ass, if your car smells like marijuana your f%$ked.

  • bk

    Great now let’s get legalization in Georgia and all other states. No need in trying to avoid the pitfall of all this extra income for states though.

  • Mr T

    what abotu if you use medically for seasickness/motion sickness?

    • Butch Riggs

      Still federally illegal, so at this point can’t have it onboard for ANY reason! Messed up? Yeah. ..Coast Guard will enforce federal laws .. even if the state is one where it’s legal it’s still against federal laws. ..will not matter if you have a medical marijuana card. .still against federal law! What BS! Should be legal by federal law!

    • max’s pad

      Nah, in our militaristic society, cops are pretty much free to do anything including free to ignore medical necessities. This has led to a tiny few cowboy cops who generally can kill someone (particularly deeply tanned 😉 folks) and get away with blatant murder. They now steal cars and cash and jewelry claiming it was illegally obtained and don’t need to prove it in court. They can use stolen seized cars to patrol the highways to arrest you as part of a stolen seized cash funding of a detail and then send you to a private prison partly funded by stolen proceeds from the inmates. Even the protection rackets of the mafia in the 60s couldn’t get away with as much as modern policing can.
      That is why a pretty girl being stopped in the country should drive to a populated area to avoid the occasional rapist policeman.

    • Adrian…

      Weed, IMO is the LAST thing you want for seasickness. lol.
      Smoke too much and you get lightheaded, you’ll be best friends with the port side railing for a good while.

      (Hence why I’ll never board a ship, if you get sick, there ain’t crap you can do about it but tough it out on the 3-4 day journey).

      • Mark

        Motion sickness pills REALLY work an hour b 4.

        • Adude

          Well yeah. Motion sickness pills, pop 3 low drowsy. You’ll be cooler than a center seed in a cucumber.
          Smoke weed on a ship? Boy, GG. You’re seeing food you ate a week ago.

  • David Yoseph Schreiber

    What is the legal status of LSD and cocaine outside the three mile limit or on the high seas? The crystal ship (registered in Peru) is leaving soon and maybe from the 79th Street Boat Basin in Manhattan.

    • Mark

      I’m sure they are still illegal-for sure! Is this a tip??

      • David Yoseph Schreiber

        Their legality would be determined by the laws of the place that the ship is registered. Panama and Liberia specifically do not police ships that fly their flag. They do this so as to charge a fee to owners that do not want any regulation. American luxury liners will have organized casino gambling outside the three mile limit. The legal status is gray but the cops don’t bother them. DMT / ayahuasca retreats are legal in Peru and American citizens openly go to them. So far there have been no problems. However it is difficult to predict the behavior of drug war maniacs.

        LSD and hallucinogens attract Ph.D types. Cocaine attracts the very rich and high salaried corporate types. There are plenty of both in Manhattan. The cops may choose to ignore a battle against brains backed up with a billion dollars, especially since they have already lost a number of legal fights. Here’s an interesting try, it is legal to take peyote (mescaline) as part of a Native American Church ceremony but only for a blood Indian. That is clearly racist. The court could ban peyote for native Americans but the red man has been tough and successful about this. Jack Herer would probably give it a whirl.

  • Renay Watkins

    Wouldnet make sense to legalize all drugs and ferally regulate them i beleive most people would end up bot on heroine and crack but enjoying beer whisky or mary jane possible the odd extacy thats ream mdma or sasafras oil same as heroine if its popy oil essence and regulated then life would be easyi wr the law is the lae u gotta be kegal age and you cant drive whilst cosumeing nor can you consume openly public the only real threat is imo meth and i suppose crack to point otherwisr most drugs if pure and at their base form can be recreational and also helpful to a point

    • yes legalize everything so that we can all think and spell like you do. for fucks sake dude

      • Renay Watkins

        Thinking like me isnt a bad thing legalizeation of all drugs and regulation will drop crime and save lives aswell it will put the main issue if addiction aquare into peoples own hands if you choose to take too much and become addicted and die so be it my way of thinking isnt popular because its brutally true. If people were left to themselves to CHOOSE after being given all the info and still end up useing to a point were the OD or becone an addict then at least it was there choice and they can go and live under a bridge somewhere and the people who think that addiction is a desise are already looking through colourd glasses. Its always a deseise when they decide to get off the drug before that people use drugs BECAUSE THEY FEEL GOOD no other reason
        Legalize it and limit it like alcohol and you will soon loose the wasters to OD or Other related illness. ANY doogooder who wants to save everyone is delusional and the grammer and apelling nazis stay on your keyboards and do nothing im out in the world helping and pushing the reforms you all just talk about

    • D’Harry Southwood

      WTF?!!! What are you trying to communicate? You give us all a bad name when you write/talk like this, man. And just for example: “heroine” = female hero. “heroin” = drug

      • Renay Watkins

        Im sorry for haveing dylexia and an opinion trials have been implemented in aome parts of denmark and other euro cities and drug crime and crime as a whole have gone down by over 40% and 55% respectively

        Very sory i upset you mr gramer nazi also to the peson below who commented try not to belittle peo0le who have opini9ns u maynot agree with me but you also dont know me or my story being involved with marijuana or even ither drugs and medacinces i have been fighting for 20+ years now gone throw cancer chroinc insomnia ocd adhd bipoler 2 majour manic depressive disorder wgilst youg even a fight with illeagal drugs i also have 3 fractured disc in my back 1 lumber 2 cerviacal and a vlown kne from anterior interior and miniscus osteoporosis and arthritis and I personally i dislike haveing to take a pil to wake up ine to stay alive and ine to kill pain and 1 to stop ke killingbothers ine to stop a group of other things aswel ad then ine to calm down and then ine to sleep walk a week in my shoes before calling me the problem try luving with a 5/10 pain everyday and occasionally a 10 out of 10 for fun if all the problems youncan comment on about me ate my fyslexia about the fact i cant seem to get grammer to wirk in my mind so sorry to ruin your day but you can do one thing if you dont like what i write dont read it im probabaly one of the better people to be able to put perspective on
        medical marijuana i am uniquely qualifiesld ad i fot most of the needs all governments around the world deem nessesary to be eligible to receive it now if i can have a 1ml dropper in the morning and vape or drink prefeably not smoke something for pain and im good for the day then a dropper again at nite and sleep like a log and loose the need to take ohh i dont know about 5-10 different m3dications from big pharmaceutical maybe what you could have done was say i dont agree with you andnleave it at that or for this one do and edit and speell cheack as my device doesnt have the features to do so and i have a tiny keyboard bad eyes and fat thumbs over 30years in around heing told what to do how to do it and when by the system that is now incontrol if medical marijuana in my country im worried that it will never get of the legalizeation boarad and your worried about grammer aand soelling on the internet prioritys man

  • Mark Hunter

    So go ahead and be a douchebag and enforce it

  • 360dunk

    Hey Flockerzi, how about you and your fellow Coast Guard officers go after the foreign drug cartels that smuggle in tons of weed? Maybe use some common sense and leave individual recreation boaters alone. Where are your priorities, fool?

  • Mark

    I understand 15 miles out is legal for pirate radio stations to operate. Why not opiates???

    • Mark Skinner

      Cannabis is NOT an opiate !

      • Mark

        Sorry. I mean marijuana. Don’t shoot me man~

        • Adrian…

          *slowly pulls out gun*

          • Mark


  • Todd Burgess

    They only allow us to use the plant, under specific guidelines, dictated by some dumbf#$@.
    Changes my mind about living on a houseboat!!

  • calvet11

    Back in the day (late 60’s early 70’s) I was in the USAF in Southern Florida. Working on some of the same projects next to us were a detachment of Coasties. If it is anything like it was, those guys were WAY too busy to check out a grouper fisherman for a joint or a bottle of cannabis soda. Hundreds of things this country needs to have done and we have a butt hole as AG who wants to be annoying about God’s little helper plant.

    • justadbeer

      Well…with a little luck, that AG will be shot down the road in the near future.

  • Silverado

    For these entities it’s more about the money than any kind of safety thing. They’re greedy bass-turds and only care about their…almighty dollar, especially the ones they can swindle out of YOU. In inland waters at least here in Washington state you’re more likely to see Sasquatch than some snoopy fed out on a boat looking for MJ tokers. And the state, unless you’re driving the boat, doesn’t care either. (Though steelhead salmon season is coming soon so maybe they can get me for standing in their Chehalis River because they somehow “own” that and the fish too?? Ya sure… I have two words comprised of 7 letters and the first one is F and the last one is U). Anyway and in fact I’d say they’re pretty happy with all those cannabis taxes rolling in and would do anything to keep them coming. Unlike the sour-pussed feds.

  • BenSamizdat

    The Rohrabacher–Farr amendment is Federal Law and it prohibits the Federal Government from interfering with States governing of Medical Marijjuana. As long as you are in the waters of a State that has legalized Medical and you have your Medical ID, you are covered. They can arrest you but you can sue the krap out of the Coast Guard and win. Unfortunately for them, they can’t pick and choose what laws they want to follow any more than the rest of us. Furthermore, since Sessions hasn’t issued any official refutation or amendent of the Cole Memorandum as of yet, Estoppel means that the Coast Guard can’t do anything about Recreational consumption that isn’t open. Open Carry laws might apply though. And odor laws too. This is all getting sorted out as we go, and we are still seeing a willful refusal by Federal officials to recognize there has been a legal Sea Change they are obligated to follow.

  • Echo

    I told people that prop 64 was a hoax. Told them it was a way for government to further control us and keep tabs on us. Told them that their dispensary costs would skyrocket and everything would be taxed up the ass, and most of all, it still wouldn’t be federally legal. But everyone saw the, “legalize marijuana in California,” and without digging any deeper voted yes. What a mistake. This article just proves the falsified information that we are bring vomited. My friend went in for a job interview the other day. He had been clean for a month in preparation, and the job orientation packet even said you will not be denied work if you have a medical card. Now mind you, they can still deny you even though California is a ‘legal’ state. But, he had his card, again, clean for a month, but the THC still showed in his system and after flashing his card he was told that he had wasted his whole day and they wouldn’t hire a pot smoker even though it is ‘legal’, he has a medical card, and it is done in the privacy of his own home. The gal told him, and these were her words, “Marijuana is still federally illegal. We won’t hire anyone who uses the substance THC,” despite also saying in their work booklet that they wouldn’t turn you away if you had a medical card. This just infuriates me every time I’m reminded of it. Sad and sickening.