No, Marijuana Drones Are Not Coming Soon

Flying beer will have to wait, too.

National Journal
Alex Brown
Add to Briefcase
Alex Brown
March 17, 2014, 11:58 a.m.

It was the sort of only-in-Cali­for­nia head­line that was just plaus­ible enough to be true: “Med­ic­al Marijuana De­livered by Fly­ing Drones.”

But fly­ing drones aren’t about to de­liv­er any­thing — let alone marijuana.

“We are not de­liv­er­ing med­ic­al marijuana,” con­firmed QuiQui founder Joshua Zier­ing, who hopes his fleet of drones will one day be able to drop off pre­scrip­tion drugs. “I think [the In­ter­na­tion­al Busi­ness Times] just made it up.”

Sen­sa­tion­al­ist head­lines aside, Zier­ing’s as­pir­a­tions are ser­i­ous — as are the hopes of many en­tre­pren­eurs who see drones as the tech­no­logy be­hind a great new busi­ness mod­el. Beer com­pan­ies, flor­ists, even ma­jor-league base­ball teams — it seems no one can es­cape the ap­peal of fly­ing ro­bots.

But just be­cause drones can bring you a six-pack or shoot some awe­some spring train­ing im­ages doesn’t mean they’re al­lowed to do so.

Earli­er this month, the Fed­er­al Avi­ation Ad­min­is­tra­tion briefly lost its abil­ity to po­lice the un­manned skies when a judge ruled it lacked the au­thor­ity. But a day later, the agency ap­pealed, and com­mer­cial drones are again groun­ded un­til the mat­ter is settled.

That hasn’t stopped com­pan­ies who saw the tem­por­ary re­prieve as an open­ing for their auto­mated de­liv­ery plans — or at least a fun pub­li­city stunt. Lake­maid Beer told Na­tion­al Journ­al it was re­sur­rect­ing plans to work on a beer de­liv­ery sys­tem for ice fish­er­men. A Michigan flor­ist, stung when its Valentine’s Day de­liv­ery plan met the FAA’s dis­ap­prov­al, wasted no time an­noun­cing it would re­sume test­ing.

Even the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als took to the skies to get some pre­season pub­li­city shots.

While the FAA tries to clear up mis­per­cep­tions over what the rul­ing and the ap­peal mean, the var­ied re­sponses il­lus­trate the con­fu­sion over just what busi­nesses are al­lowed to do — and what the FAA can and will do to stop them.

“Com­mer­cial op­er­a­tions are only au­thor­ized on a case-by-case basis,” the FAA’s Eliza­beth Cory said in an email last month. “A com­mer­cial flight re­quires a cer­ti­fied air­craft, a li­censed pi­lot, and op­er­at­ing ap­prov­al. To date, only one op­er­a­tion has met these cri­ter­ia.” That’s an op­er­a­tion that uses drones to con­duct en­vir­on­ment­al sur­veys in the Arc­tic pri­or to drilling.

But it’s un­clear just how many busi­nesses have a full grasp of those guidelines. Some have ar­gued their low-fly­ing craft aren’t break­ing any laws — but the FAA’s 400-foot lim­it is in place for hob­by­ists, not com­mer­cial users. Oth­ers are basing plans off the court de­cision, but not the FAA’s ap­peal.

This con­fu­sion makes it harder for the agency to po­lice the sky. While the FAA can shut down busi­nesses whose drone plans make the news, it’s nearly im­possible to reg­u­late com­pan­ies who don’t an­nounce their pres­ence.

“You have this choosy poli­cing, and I think that’s a waste of time,” Zier­ing said. He would prefer to see drone op­er­at­ors come up with uni­form, self-reg­u­lat­ing stand­ards, sim­il­ar to the mod­el air­plane in­dustry.

Cur­rently, it seems the FAA is tak­ing it easy on drone users who don’t un­der­stand the rules. The beer com­pany and the flor­ist both re­ceived only po­lite warn­ings from the agency that their op­er­a­tions wer­en’t al­lowed. In fact, the court case that led to the chal­lenge of the FAA’s au­thor­ity is the only time it has tried to levy pun­ish­ment (a $10,000 fine for reck­less fly­ing dur­ing a com­mer­cial shoot).

For now, Zier­ing says he real­izes the drone re­volu­tion will have to wait on reg­u­la­tion, and that might be slow go­ing. “I re­spect the FAA, and I re­spect the [Na­tion­al Trans­port­a­tion Safety Board],” he said. “Ob­vi­ously, they’re not ready for this to hap­pen yet and we’re go­ing to try to re­spect that as much as pos­sible.” Still, he said, “this is gonna hap­pen one way or an­oth­er,” and QuiQui wants to be ready when the rules be­come clear.

The FAA did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

What We're Following See More »
HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS IN SUSPICIOUS CHECKS FLAGGED
Mueller’s Team Scrutinizing Russian Embassy Transactions
8 minutes ago
THE LATEST
TOLD NOT TO DISCUSS WHITE HOUSE WORK
Bannon’s Attorney Passed Along Questions to White House
12 minutes ago
THE LATEST

"Steve Bannon’s attorney relayed questions, in real time, to the White House during a House Intelligence Committee interview of the former Trump chief strategist" on Tuesday. "Bannon’s attorney Bill Burck was asking the White House counsel’s office by phone whether his client could answer the questions. He was told by that office not to discuss his work on the transition or in the White House."

Source:
HAS LED ENERGY ASSN FOR TEN YEARS
Jack Gerard Stepping Down from API
14 minutes ago
THE DETAILS

"The top lobbyist for the U.S. oil-and-gas industry is stepping down after 10 years on the job. Jack Gerard, the president and CEO of the American Petroleum Institute, sent an email to his staff on Wednesday morning saying that he decided not to seek another five-year contract with the nation’s largest oil-and-gas industry trade association."

Source:
MORE FALLOUT FROM “SHITHOLE” COMMENT
CBC, Judiciary Committee Dems Move to Censure Trump
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
CARPER IS ONLY DEMOCRAT TO VOTE YES
Azar Nomination Passes Committee
1 hours ago
THE LATEST
×
×

Welcome to National Journal!

You are currently accessing National Journal from IP access. Please login to access this feature. If you have any questions, please contact your Dedicated Advisor.

Login