Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Cannabis Chocolate Bars Landed This Pilot in Trouble. He's Now in the District of Columbia Circuit: Lancair Evolution, registered to and operated by Aero Smart Solutions Inc, N38DM, accident occurred October 01, 2016 near Allen County Airport (K88), Iola, Kansas

“It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t deliberate. And it wasn’t reckless,” the pilot's lawyer says. “Suspension is the appropriate sanction." A panel of D.C. Circuit judges Wednesday will hear the case.

DC Circuit Judge Gregory Katsas is on the panel that will hear Siegel’s case. 

Shortly after takeoff October 1st 2016, Jeff Siegel encountered a problem in the skies over Kansas: His airplane’s engine failed, forcing the pilot to make an emergency landing on a road near the small town of Iola.

The Lancair Evolution single-engine plane suffered heavy damage, but neither Siegel nor his passenger were seriously hurt. The Kansas State Highway Patrol, called to the scene, found a briefcase onboard that would ultimately put Siegel on the radar of federal officials.

Inside were three chocolate bars labeled “Lab tested to 100 mg of THC,” a reference to tetrahydrocannabinol—the psychoactive chemical in cannabis.

Siegel soon received a notice from the Federal Aviation Administration saying his private pilot certificate would be revoked.  Months later, the Federal Aviation Administration acting administrator issued an emergency order formally revoking Siegel’s private pilot certificate. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, Siegel had not demonstrated the “degree of care, judgment, and responsibility required of the holder of an airman certificate.”

Siegel was not alleged to have been under the influence of cannabis, and his passenger—now his wife—later claimed she had packed the chocolate bars without his knowledge. He faced a drug possession charge in Kansas that was later dropped.

His challenge to the  Federal Aviation Administration penalty is set to come before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit on Wednesday morning, in a case that muddles transportation safety rules with the tension between states and the federal government over the lawfulness of marijuana.

Siegel’s lawyer, Greg Winton of the Annapolis-based Aviation Law Firm, said the case is the first he’s aware of involving the revocation of a pilot certificate over “simple possession” of cannabis, as opposed to trafficking. Winton is set to argue in the D.C. Circuit before a panel of three judges: Sri Srinivasan, Gregory Katsas and David Sentelle.

In court papers, Winton has argued that the Federal Aviation Administration ignored mitigating factors—such as the fact that the chocolate bars were purchased legally, “apparently in Colorado”—and went against agency policy with such a stiff punishment. A suspension, Siegel has argued, would better fit the offense.

Winton has also argued that Siegel inadvertently took flight with the cannabis-infused chocolate bars.

“It wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t deliberate. And it wasn’t reckless,” Winton said in an interview. “Suspension is the appropriate sanction, I think, in that circumstance.”

A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman declined to comment on the case but said the agency “has been consistent in its position that marijuana is a ‘significantly impairing’ drug with respect to operating an aircraft.”

Even with the revocation of his certificate, Siegel, a Utah resident who runs his own health and nutrition company, will be allowed to reapply for one early next year. He is pressing his case to avoid having the revocation on his record and go through a full recertification process.

The Justice Department, representing the Federal Aviation Administration, has argued that the agency’s administrator and National Transportation Safety Board  have broad authority to revoke certificates when pilots are found to have flown with marijuana or narcotic drugs onboard. The government’s lawyers have noted that, while the chocolate bars might have been purchased in Colorado, federal law continues to prohibit possession of cannabis regardless of where it is bought or consumed.

The National Transportation Safety Board “rightly found it immaterial that the drugs might have been procured in Colorado: regardless of any state’s law, ‘it remains illegal under Federal law to possess this controlled substance and transport it on an aircraft within the national air space,’” Justice Department attorneys wrote in a D.C. Circuit brief, adding that Siegel’s punishment was consistent with the board’s precedent.

Under the Trump administration, the Justice Department has adopted a toughened stance—at least on paper—toward state-legalized marijuana. In January, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions withdrew guidance issued under the Obama administration that called for a hands-off approach to marijuana that was legal under state law.

At the National Transportation Safety Board, Siegel found one official who agreed that a lighter punishment was warranted.

In his appeal of the administrator’s emergency license revocation, Siegel went to an in-house judge at the National Transportation Safety Board, where his wife testified that she placed the chocolate bars in the briefcase without Siegel’s knowledge.

The judge lowered Siegel’s penalty to a 90-day suspension of his private pilot certificate, drawing a distinction between his case and a case two years earlier involving 200 pounds of marijuana that were found on an airplane.

“Guess what the sanction was? Revocation,” the administrative law judge said, referring to the earlier case. “How is that consistent with what we’ve got here today?”

“This was a simple possession of a substance that was purchased legally, apparently in Colorado,” the in-house National Transportation Safety Board judge said. “There wasn’t any use involved. There wasn’t any transporting for commercial purposes involved.”

Siegel and the Federal Aviation Administration acting administrator both appealed to the full National Transportation Safety Board, which reinstated the revocation of the certificate.

Original article can be found here ➤

The National Transportation Safety Board did not travel to the scene of this accident.

Additional Participating Entity: 
Federal Aviation Administration / Flight Standards District Office; Wichita, Kansas

Aviation Accident Preliminary Report - National Transportation Safety Board:

Location: Iola, KS
Accident Number: CEN17LA009
Date & Time: 10/01/2016, 1735 CDT
Registration: N38DM
Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 None
Flight Conducted Under: Part 91: General Aviation - Personal 

On October 1, 2016, about 1735 central daylight time (CDT), a Lancair Evolution, N38DM, experienced a total loss of engine power during cruise flight. The pilot made a forced landing onto a roadway near Iola, Kansas. The airplane sustained substantial damage to the left and right wings, and tail section during the landing sequence. The private pilot was not injured and the passenger suffered minor injuries. The airplane was registered to, and operated by, Aero Smart Solutions, Inc. under the provisions of 14 Code of Federal Regulations Part 91 as a personal flight. Visual meteorological conditions prevailed for the flight, and an instrument flight rules flight plan was filed.

Aircraft and Owner/Operator Information

Registration: N38DM
Aircraft Category: Airplane
Amateur Built: No
Operating Certificate(s) Held: None

Meteorological Information and Flight Plan

Conditions at Accident Site:
Condition of Light:
Observation Facility, Elevation: K88
Observation Time: 2235 UTC
Distance from Accident Site:
Temperature/Dew Point: 23°C / 9°C
Lowest Cloud Condition:
Wind Speed/Gusts, Direction: Calm / ,
Lowest Ceiling:
Visibility: 10 Miles
Altimeter Setting: 30.05 inches Hg
Type of Flight Plan Filed: IFR
Departure Point: IOLA, KS (K88)
Destination: OGDEN, UT (OGD)

Wreckage and Impact Information

Crew Injuries: 1 None
Aircraft Damage: Substantial
Passenger Injuries: 1 Minor
Aircraft Fire: None
Ground Injuries: N/A
Aircraft Explosion: None
Total Injuries: 1 Minor, 1 None
Latitude, Longitude:


  1. I feel for the guy but as airman we have responsibilities far and above the trends of the day. On the same note explain to me why smoking cigarettes is so vilified while inhaling non filtered smoke from cannabis is not.
    Cannabinoids, alcohol or opioids all stimulate receptors in the brain meant to only be activated for a split second but hammered by those alien molecules with not well understood effects.
    Psychoactive drugs are in a way a reflection of "software bugs" in the brain where some receptors are compatible with completely alien and non natural molecules to the brain.
    The distortion of mood and thinking might randomly make Steve Jobs imagine stuff he claims inspired the iPod or other tales but the harsh reality is randomly messing up the careful chemical balance in the brain triggers unwanted side effects, like addiction and other health issues.
    The field of Aviation is badly suited for such variance as a simple detail can have vast and deadly consequences...

  2. There are many factors that show this judge let us down. He let this pilots lawyer harm the reputation of all pilots and raise the cost of insurance for our community. Just "a little pot" should not be tolerated.The name of this pilot's corporation and its described market suggests this pilot is a promotor of the cannabis culture. His next private flight will likely involve 200lbs of product he will be providing to the youth of Utah.
    This aircraft is most often powered by a PT-6 turbine. This powerplant is renowned for its reliability across many airframes unless neglected or its fuel supply mismanaged. Is it not ironic that there was no statement about the nature of the engine "failure". Why was there no mention of a quantitative drug test. The "anti-caffeine effect" of THC described by Elon Musk has no place in the management of 700hp experimental aircraft specifically know for a poor safety record due to the high demands it places on sober and proficient pilots. This is not a self driving car!
    As a emergency room physician I can tell you that the intoxication caused by the extraction of THC or the synthetic analogs goes far beyond minor sedation. We need our own Boxer Rebellion to avoid the next foot drop of addiction promotion by these defense lawyers. They care NOTHING about the damage they will cause only the profits they anticipate. The present gambling and shylock corporations is just another symptom of the exploitation of the public. The damage will be similar to the advancement from opium to fentanyl or the refinement of wine or beer to hard liquors. The slavery of multiple addictions is the cause of much suffering and social declines that diminish the possibility of innovation like experimental aircraft across the world.

    As a Lancair owner I can tell you the insurance of our pool of aircraft will go up because of this man's actions. Did his 3 month suspension require additional training in airmanship or drug counseling ? Did anyone at the FAA look for a risk pattern of the powerplant installation in this airframe?. It seems that his lawyer got a sweet deal. Is there an unnatural synergism between this lawyer and this judge?
    This guys not going to be a real pilot in three months. The offering of allowing his wife to take the fall for the drugs is associated with the type of class we expect from our present crop of lawyers and the judges they golf with. Real pilots take responsibility for their own actions and the safety of those they fly. I am grateful for the safe return to earth of this couple and hope that judge involved gets down to earth as well.

  3. He was a bit naughty with the pot brownies and all.