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Federal Court To Cannabis Pilot: No More Transporting Weed Around Alaska, FAA Revokes License Though Pot Is Legal There

Published 26/04/2024, 21:53
© Reuters.  Federal Court To Cannabis Pilot: No More Transporting Weed Around Alaska, FAA Revokes License Though Pot Is Legal There

Benzinga - by Maureen Meehan, Benzinga Editor.

James M. Fejes Jr., owner of Flying High Investments LLC, faces the loss of his pilot license after transporting cannabis within Alaska.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) revoked his certificate despite Fejes’s argument that since cannabis is legal in Alaska, its transportation should be legal as well.

The trouble began when the FAA discovered that Fejes was using his private plane for cannabis distribution following a report from the state’s Alcohol and Marijuana Control Office.

For starters, Fejes allegedly violated tracking requirements. While cultivation facilities must adhere to strict protocols, known as seed-to-sale tracking, Fejes misrepresented his transport methods, triggering the investigation.

Alaska, which has a land area of 570,865.8 square miles and a water area of 94,722.2 square miles, is the largest US state by area. Small planes are essential for transporting supplies, food and people to hard-to-reach places across Alaska.

Pilot’s Appeal Falls On Deaf Ears

Fejes appealed to multiple bodies, including an administrative law judge and the National Transportation Safety Board, but was unsuccessful. His final appeal to the 9th Circuit challenged the FAA’s jurisdiction, arguing the transportation occurred solely within the state of Alaska. However, the court disagreed, asserting that Congress’s authority over interstate commerce extends to airspace regulation.

Fejes also claimed that because Alaska hadn't convicted him of any wrongdoing, the FAA had no right to revoke his license based on punishable actions. The 9th Circuit rejected Fejes’s arguments of misinterpreted law and overstepped authority and upheld the FAA’s decision.

The three-judge panel found that the Alaska law legalizing marijuana distribution did not override federal law that criminalizes the action.

"Although many states have legalized recreational marijuana, it continues to be a controlled substance federally," wrote Judge Ryan D. Nelson, one of the judges on the 9th Circuit, reported Anchorage Daily News.

It Could Be Worse

Even though the U.S. Department of Justice has directed prosecutors to exercise discretion in pursuing certain marijuana crimes in states where pot is legal, the opinion that "does not alter marijuana's status — it remains illegal under federal law."

The court opinion also ruled that even if Fejes' plane was only used within the state, it is considered an interstate form of transportation.

"Even if an airplane, like a car, is mainly used for intrastate activities, its operations could substantially impact interstate commerce," the panel found.

The FAA’s actions indicate a strict stance against such offenses, suggesting possible legal consequences for Fejes beyond having his license revoked. As a federal crime, distributing marijuana via aircraft, whether Fejes meant to break the law or not, could carry a sentence of at least one year.

Photo courtesy of Fly Around Alaska Flight School

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© 2024 Benzinga.com. Benzinga does not provide investment advice. All rights reserved.

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