If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. That seems to be the motto of one Democratic congressman who has spent the past few months repeatedly attempting to prevent the use of federal funds to drug test job applicants for marijuana.
As more states have legalized cannabis in some form, Rep. Robert Garcia (D-CA) has committed to enacting the modest reform by filing it as a proposed amendment to 12 separate appropriations bills covering multiple federal agencies. So far, the GOP-controlled Rules Committee has blocked every one from getting a floor vote, but the congressman is pushing forward with more.
Most recently, Garcia filed the measure to a spending bill covering Financial Services and General Government (FSGG). The committee is set to take it up on Monday. If recent trends hold, however, the measure will likely meet the same fate as other versions that he’s sponsored to no immediate avail.
“It’s really basic for me. I mean, the country has moved way beyond this issue. It’s ridiculous that cannabis isn’t legalized federally, at the national level, in a way that I think most people in this country understand should be the case,” Garcia told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview. “The push against cannabis, the war on drugs—I think it’s so outdated. And so I’m just trying to modernize the way that we do hiring.”
The freshman congressman who was elected last year says that his interest in the modest reform is largely informed by his experience as mayor of Long Beach from 2014 to 2022, a period that saw California expand its medical cannabis program to allow for recreational use, forcing employers to further reconcile workplace drug policies.
Our laws surrounding marijuana are severely outdated in this country. We should not be denying folks federal jobs simply because of their history of marijuana use. I will not stop fighting until we reform our hiring policies. https://t.co/t4Avr3v8Jr
— Congressman Robert Garcia (@RepRobertGarcia) November 6, 2023
Garcia said he helped work “to reform our hiring practices in the city and within different departments.”
“So a lot of it comes from my experience in Long Beach,” where the local government itself employed around 5,500 workers, “and also just my general belief that the criminalization broadly of drugs, but especially cannabis, needs to be reformed this country,” he said.
“We wanted to make sure that, within our own municipal laws, we weren’t also penalizing folks,” including those in law enforcement, Garcia said. “The fact that we were asking folks about marijuana use and using that as a requirement, it’s just super outdated.”
The California state legislature has also worked to address the issue, with lawmakers passing legislation this session to prohibit employers from asking job applicants about prior marijuana use, for example. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed that measure into law in September.
But taking that effort to the federal level, particularly in the GOP-controlled U.S. House of Representatives, has proved more challenging. The Rules Committee has represented a major barrier to drug policy reform this year. The panel hasn’t singled out Garcia; it’s blocked numerous marijuana and psychedelics amendments to spending bills from floor consideration, including those filed with bipartisan sponsors.
Beside FSGG, there’s still a chance for the committee to make in order versions of the congressman’s cannabis job applicant amendment to Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies (CJS) and Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies (LaborH) appropriations bills, which are still awaiting consideration by the panel. But just last week, it blocked two other versions covering Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD) and Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies.
That’s in addition to the multiple other blockades Garcia has faced with her earlier attempts to use spending legislation as vehicles for the employment policy change.
They include the Departments of Energy and Water Development and Related Agencies, the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS); Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration (Ag-FDA); State and Foreign Operations and Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies (MilCon/VA).
“I think it’s unfortunate” Garcia said, “but we’re going to keep doing it.”
“It’s important to keep pushing this issue,” he said. “I understand that a majority of my colleagues in Congress still don’t understand the issue, and I think we’re behind where the country is at as it relates to legalization, but we’re going to continue to do it as much as possible.”
Legalization notwithstanding, however, the congressman said that removing marijuana drug testing ought to be a given.
“It’s even more ridiculous that we still have to focus on this testing,” he said. “We have a labor shortage in this country and we’re going to deny federal jobs because of cannabis use, whether whether prior or even current? I think it’s a mistake.”
Garcia has also take a leading role in advocating for psychedelics reform since entering Congress this year, introducing a bill with Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) this session that would prohibit the use of federal funds to interfere in state and local laws legalizing psilocybin.
He and Blumenauer, a founding Congressional Cannabis Caucus co-chair who recently announced that he will not be seeking reelection next year, are also behind a CJS appropriations amendment to enact a more limited version of that reform affecting jurisdictions that legalize the psychedelic for medical use.
Because the psychedelics appropriations measure concerns medical psilocybin states, its practical impact if enacted may be limited in the short-term given that no states have explicitly authorized it as a therapeutic in the way they have for marijuana, with qualifying conditions and doctor recommendations, for example.
Rather, the psychedelics laws that have been enacted in states like Colorado and Oregon are more open-ended, acknowledging the therapeutic potential of substances like psilocybin without necessarily requiring adults to jump through regulatory hoops to establish their patient status in order to obtain state-legal services. At the local level, psychedelics reform has principally focused on deprioritizing criminalization.
To the disappointment of advocates, Newsom vetoed legislation this session to legalize certain psychedelics and create work group to make recommendations on future regulated access.
Garcia’s staff had conveyed his support for the state legislation to the governor’s office, and the congressman said that while he backs Newsom, he wishes he would’ve signed the measure, calling it a “good bill” and adding that “we’ll just keep fighting.”
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The Rules Committee, meanwhile, has allowed separate, GOP-led psychedelics measures to receive floor consideration as part of another appropriations bill that ultimately passed the full House.
One of those House-passed amendments would allow VA doctors to issue medical cannabis recommendations to veterans, and the other would encourage research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics like psilocybin and MDMA.
The Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that also includes a similar provision to allow VA to issue medical marijuana recommendations to veterans living in legal states—setting the stage for conference with the House.
A pair of psychedelics research measures, as well as an amendment on creating federal labeling requirements related to marijuana interactions with prescription drugs, were also approved by the House in September as part of a Department of Defense (DOD) spending bill.
Over in the Senate, lawmakers passed defense legislation in July that contains provisions to bar intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use. But other cannabis proposals, such as one from Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) to allowed medical marijuana use by veterans, did not advance as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).
More than a dozen marijuana and psychedelics amendments to the House version of the NDAA were blocked by the Rules Committee in July. That includes a measure introduced by Garcia that would have prevented security clearance denials for federal workers over prior cannabis use.
However, in September the House Oversight and Accountability Committee passed a standalone bipartisan bill that would prevent the denial of federal employment or security clearances based on a candidate’s past marijuana use.