Though Maine has legalized recreational marijuana, don’t expect the U.S. Coast Guard to be on board with a state law.

Boaters who plan to get out on Maine waters this holiday weekend should prepare to be boarded by federal and state law enforcement officers, who will be out in force as they look for impaired operators as part of the nationwide Operation Dry Water campaign. The annual three-day effort was established in 2009 to raise awareness about the dangers of boating under the influence.

In Maine and the seven other states that have legalized recreational marijuana, the Coast Guard also is threatening fines or even arrest if officers find boat operators in coastal waters to be in possession of pot.

Coast Guard officials say federal law, which still prohibits the possession and use of marijuana, supersedes state law. That means federal agencies such as the Coast Guard plan to fully enforce those laws.

However, the Maine Marine Patrol and the Maine Warden Service enforce only state laws, meaning their officers will not issue a citation or seize the marijuana if the person who has it in their possession is 21 or over, the amount is no more than 2.5 ounces and it is not being consumed in public.



Recreational use of marijuana is now legal in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, California, Nevada, Colorado, Massachusetts and Maine. Colorado does not have waters that are patrolled by the Coast Guard.

“The Coast Guard enforces federal laws within all navigable U.S. waters. This means that in all marijuana cases, Coast Guard law enforcement officers will enforce federal law, even in states which have legalized it. Federal law has not changed, so our enforcement of that law has not changed,” Andrew Barresi, a Coast Guard spokesman based in Boston, said in an email.

Barresi said the Coast Guard will board boats on international, federal and state waterways for the purpose of ensuring the safety and security of the boating community.

“If during the course of the boarding Coast Guard law enforcement officers encounter personal use quantities of marijuana, allegedly possessed in accordance with state laws, the boarding officer will advise the individual that possession of marijuana, for whatever purpose is still illegal under federal law,” Barresi said.

“Some actions that could be taken for individuals found to be in possession of marijuana, include, but are not limited to, seizure of the marijuana, receipt of a citation, or being taken into custody.”

The consequences of being caught by the Coast Guard with a small amount of marijuana on board are not determined by enforcement agents on the scene, said Lt. Cmdr. Jeff Bryant, the enforcement chief for Maine, New Hampshire, Lake Champlain in Vermont and part of New York. Instead, the penalties will be assessed at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.


Unlike in the past, the vessel itself is not subject to federal seizure for a first-time possession of marijuana charge. That could change if the amount of marijuana on board surpassed the 50-pound threshold – which turns the person who has it into a potential trafficker – if it was not a first offense, or if the person who has it or is consuming it was driving a boat involved in an accident in which someone was injured.


So far this year, Bryant’s sector has had only one marijuana enforcement case, and that was in New York, where marijuana possession is illegal. That recreational boater was charged with possession of marijuana for the single ounce of cannabis he had in his possession at the time of the boarding, Bryant said.

Bryant said there have been two marijuana enforcement cases in the two years he has been stationed in northern New England.

Both occurred before Maine voters legalized marijuana. In one case, the marijuana was found during a joint boarding with Maine Marine Patrol, so the Coast Guard let the state work the case. In the other, the Coast Guard confiscated the marijuana but did not issue a citation.

Before coming to New England, Bryant was posted in Washington state, where voters legalized marijuana in 2012, so he’s seen this kind of federal-state enforcement divide up close. Although he didn’t handle enforcement there, he remembers the confusion that occurred when people wanted to take marijuana purchased on the mainland to their island home or vacation rental.


“It gets kind of tricky with the ferry systems and the islands,” Bryant said. “When they’re on the islands, they could possess (marijuana), just like here. Washington has a huge ferry system, a lot of islands, and people wanted to bring their marijuana out to the islands, where they live and vacation, but once it got on the ferry system, it became illegal. I could see that here.”

Maine has over 4,600 islands off its coastline. Calls to the state ferry system, which is run by the state Department of Transportation and runs boats to a handful of the biggest islands, were not returned Friday.

The system’s website doesn’t mention marijuana, but passengers are forbidden from bringing open alcoholic containers on board.

Private ferry services to several of Maine’s more popular tourist destinations, like Monhegan and the Cranberry islands, or Casco Bay Lines, which serves tourists and residents of the islands in the Greater Portland area, say they haven’t had people ask about whether they can carry marijuana aboard, nor have they been contacted by the Coast Guard regarding enforcement during safety inspections.

The Maine Marine Patrol and the Maine Warden Service will join federal law enforcement officers in keeping on eye out for impaired boaters over the holiday weekend, whether it’s on inland lakes and rivers or along the coast.

“Maine game wardens will be out in force this coming weekend participating in Operation Dry Water,” Cpl. John MacDonald of the warden service said Thursday.


The marine patrol will be looking for those operating under the influence along Maine’s coastal waters, Maj. Rene Cloutier said.

“Boating under the influence is a 100 percent preventable crime,” he said.


The Coast Guard will conduct daily patrols out of its six small-boat stations in Portland, Boothbay, Rockland, Southwest Harbor, Jonesport and Eastport, conducting regular safety inspections to check for items such as flares and life vests, and enforcing boating-under-the-influence laws, Bryant said.

In 2016, the Maine Marine Patrol positioned Operation Dry Water enforcement details in the Saco River, Portland Harbor, the Sheepscot River, the Kennebec River, the St. George River, the Penobscot River, Southwest Harbor, Northeast Harbor, Swan’s Island, Frenchboro and Bass Harbor. A total of 115 boats were checked during those patrols.

Operating a boat with a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher is against the law in Maine. Boating under the influence laws pertain to all vessels on the water, including canoes, rowboats, motorboats, fishing vessels and commercial ships.


David Boyer, Maine director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said his organization is urging the state’s congressional delegation to support the McClintock Amendment in Congress, which would protect states that have legalized marijuana from federal interference.

“Based on the Coast Guard’s statement, we would not advise Mainers to possess or use marijuana in federal waters,” Boyer said in an email. “With support for making marijuana legal at an all-time high, the federal government needs to back off of states that have chosen a more sensible marijuana policy.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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