Congressman Files Bill To Prevent Marijuana Impairment For Government Workers
A GOP congressman filed a bill to create a federal workforce training program meant to provide government employers with information about the impacts of on-duty impairment from marijuana and other drugs, as well as best practices for substance use prevention.
Rep. Burgess Owens (R-UT) introduced the legislation, titled the “Preventing Impairment in the Workplace Act,” late last month.
The proposal would authorize the secretary of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) to study programs designed to “educate employers, workers, and relevant workplace populations” on the use of cannabis, opioids and other drugs on the job.
That research would involve looking into prevention strategies and safety risks from on-duty marijuana impairment.
The department would further be tasked with developing a “workplace training program to be made available to full-time and part-time employees and individuals employed by a State or the Federal Government.” It would need to create that program in consultation with a national non-profit organization “with relevant experience.”
The program would similarly cover the impacts of on-the-job impairment from cannabis and other substances, the need for prevention policies, “signs and symptoms” of impairment, how to employers should respond to perceived impairment and guidance on “relevant laws and regulations.”
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“We owe it to every American to create the safest possible workplace,” Owens said in a press release, adding that the overdose crisis that’s largely attributable to drugs like opioids and methamphetamine underscores the urgency of the legislation.
By the federal government’s own admission, there have not been any reported incidences of a cannabis-related overdose deaths.
The bill, which does not have any cosponsors, “meets this crisis head on with an all-of-the-above strategy by creating a national training program to help employers prevent, recognize, and respond to impairment,” he said.
Jenny Burke, vice president of impairment practice at the National Safety Council (NSC), said that it’s “so important to create avenues for employers to address these safety risks that are often under-investigated yet pervasive on and off the job.”
“This bill will provide a path for employers to effectively recognize and respond to all types of impairment, which will save lives,” she said. “NSC stands ready to help implement large-scale workplace training and evidence-based best practices centered on safety.”
As more states have moved to legalize marijuana in some form, workplace cannabis policies have been under close scrutiny.
The nation’s largest union representing federal employees recently adopted a resolution in support of marijuana legalization and calling for an end to policies that penalize federal workers who use cannabis responsibly while they’re off the clock in states where it is legal.
A federal marijuana legalization bill filed by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) last month contains a provision that would specifically prohibit federal employers from testing workers for cannabis, with certain exceptions for sensitive positions such as law enforcement and those involving national security.
Meanwhile, House Appropriations Committee leadership recently urged the White House to “continue to review policies and guidelines regarding hiring and firing of individuals who use marijuana in states where that individual’s private use of marijuana is not prohibited under the law of the State” as part of a Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) spending report.
It specifically requests that the executive branch apply drug testing standards with “consistency and fairness.”
In June, the Senate Intelligence Committee separately adopted an amendment from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) that would prohibit the federal government from denying people the security clearances they need to work at intelligence agencies simply because they’ve used marijuana.
But in general, federal agencies have been reluctant to loosen cannabis-related employment rules despite state efforts to legalize cannabis for medical and recreational use.
For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) recently proposed a changes to drug testing policies for federal workers that would clarify that having a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana or any other Schedule I drug is not a valid excuse for a positive drug test.
Meanwhile, the director of national intelligence (DNI) said late last year that federal employers shouldn’t outright reject security clearance applicants over past use and should use discretion when it comes to those with cannabis investments in their stock portfolios.
FBI updated its hiring policies last year to make it so candidates are only automatically disqualified from joining the agency if they admit to having used marijuana within one year of applying. Previously, prospective employees of the agency could not have used cannabis within the past three years.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) also took a different approach to its cannabis policy in 2020, stating in a notice that it would not be testing drivers for CBD. However, DOT recently reiterated that the workforce it regulates is prohibited from using marijuana and will continue to be tested for THC, regardless of state cannabis policy.
U.S. Rep Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sent a letter to the head of DOT in May, stating that the agency’s policies on drug testing truckers and other commercial drivers for marijuana are unnecessarily costing people their jobs and contributing to supply chain issues.
The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) also emphasized to its workers that they are prohibited from using marijuana—or directly investing in the industry—no matter the state law or changes in “social norms” around cannabis.
And while the Biden administration has instituted a policy of granting waivers to certain workers who admit to prior cannabis use, it’s come under fire from advocates following reports that it fired or otherwise punished dozens of staffers who were honest about their history with marijuana.
Then-White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki attempted to minimize the fallout, without much success, and her office released a statement last year stipulating that nobody was fired for “marijuana usage from years ago,” nor has anyone been terminated “due to casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”
At the state level, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) recently signed an executive order to provide broad professional licensing protections for workers who use marijuana in compliance with state law. The move also prevents state agencies from assisting in any out-of-state investigations related to lawful cannabis conduct that could result in employment penalties.
Also, a union representing firefighters has claimed credit for a New York City legal directive ordering government agencies, including the New York City Fire Department (NYFD) and New York Police Department (NYPD), to cease drug testing workers for marijuana since the state enacted legalization.
Last year, the state Department of Labor separately announced in guidance that New York employers are no longer allowed to drug test most workers for marijuana, with limited exceptions. Even prior to the enactment of legalization, New York City officials had established a local ban on pre-employment drug testing for cannabis.
Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) signed a bill last month that prohibits most workplaces from firing or otherwise punishing employees for off-duty marijuana use.
In Missouri, the St. Louis County Council approved a bill in March to ban pre-employment and random drug testing for cannabis for most county workers.
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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.