Bipartisan Bill Would Allow Federal Employees to Smoke Pot Where It’s Legal

Newly transplanted cannabis cuttings grow in soilless media in pots July 12, 2018, at Sira Naturals medical marijuana cultivation facility, in Milford, Mass. Newly transplanted cannabis cuttings grow in soilless media in pots July 12, 2018, at Sira Naturals medical marijuana cultivation facility, in Milford, Mass. Steven Senne/AP

A bipartisan pair of lawmakers introduced a measure to ensure federal employees who use marijuana legally in their home states are not penalized, potentially reversing current policy that prohibits such consumption in all circumstances.

The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act (H.R. 6589) would prohibit federal agencies from using a failed drug test as the sole reason to deny or terminate employment for a civil service position. The measure would exempt positions requiring top secret security clearances and failed tests that result from probable cause, such as suspected impairment on the job. The measure was introduced by Reps. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., and Drew Ferguson, R-Ga.

Crist was inspired to put the bill forward because of the large number of veterans in his district, an aide said, who are disproportionately employed by the federal government. Recent polling from the American Legion found that more than one in five veterans currently use cannabis to treat a medical condition. Veterans have many special skill sets upon which agencies rely—and have used hiring initiatives focused on recruiting them—and the congressman did not want federal offices missing out on those opportunities, the aide said.

A recent policy shift at the Veterans Affairs Department allows veterans to discuss their personal marijuana use without risking the loss of their benefits.

» Get the best federal news and ideas delivered right to your inbox. Sign up here.

After several states and cities around the country legalized recreational marijuana, the Obama administration put out guidance reminding federal employees they were prohibited from possessing marijuana. Any changes in states or localities, “do not alter federal law, existing suitability criteria, or executive branch policies regarding marijuana,” according to the 2015 memorandum. That followed a memo from then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reminding agencies that they “continue to be prohibited from granting or renewing a security clearance to an unlawful user of a controlled substance, which includes marijuana.” Since that time, the Trump administration has only ramped up enforcement actions against legal marijuana.

The Reagan-era Executive Order 12564 on the drug-free federal workplace requires federal employees to refrain from the use of illegal drugs, and states that the use of such drugs, “whether on duty or off duty, is contrary to the efficiency of the service.” People “who use illegal drugs are not suitable for federal employment,” the order says. The Obama administration interpreted that EO to apply to both medicinal and recreational use of marijuana.

Under the new bill, the Office of Personnel Management would be responsible for drafting regulations to implement the new rules. Showing up intoxicated at the office would remain an infraction, as “impairment at work is impairment at work, no matter the substance,” the Crist aide said.

A majority of states have legalized marijuana for medical purposes, while nine states, as well as the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational use. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., in June introduced legislation to decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. 

Stay up-to-date with federal news alerts and analysis — Sign up for GovExec's email newsletters.
FROM OUR SPONSORS
JOIN THE DISCUSSION
Close [ x ] More from GovExec