Drug testing policies for federal employees have gone largely unchanged over the past 30 years—and that’s created a conflict for individuals who chose to use marijuana in states that have legalized.
A bill introduced by Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) last month aims to resolve that conflict, though. In an effort to protect prospective federal job applicants and workers, the legislation would effectively prohibit employment discrimination against cannabis consumers living in legal states.
One of the primary goals of the legislation is to protect veterans, who comprise about one-third of the federal workforce.
“I think it’s an issue of fairness, and it’s always been, for me, an issue also of compassion,” Crist said at roundtable event about the bill on Wednesday, which involved veterans and members of Florida’s cannabis industry.
“Medical marijuana is an issue of compassion, and in the veterans’ community, access is even more important as more and more veterans are turning to cannabis to address chronic pain and PTSD,” Crist said. “At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of veterans; however, private cannabis use even in states that have legalized medical marijuana is prohibited in these positions.”
Veterans are more likely than the general population to use cannabis as a treatment option for conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder or chronic pain.
“We appreciate your bipartisan leadership on this issue because it is so essential,” Veterans Cannabis Coalition founder Eric Goepel wrote in a letter of support for the legislation. “Self-care and gainful employment are critical components of life-long success for not just veterans but all Americans.”
“For the federal government to essentially punish citizens, who are under the protection of their state laws, for exercising their right to care for themselves is an affront to personal liberty.”
Talked medical marijuana with Pinellas veterans – a life-changing treatment for many. That’s why I’m pushing a bill to end federal hiring discrimination for those that depend on it! pic.twitter.com/CwtfaCYmq7
— Rep. Charlie Crist (@RepCharlieCrist) August 8, 2018
Cosponsoring the new bill with Crist is Rep. Drew Ferguson (R-GA).
“American workers are reaping the benefits of our growing economy, but some workers are finding themselves caught between federal and state laws governing medical marijuana use,” Ferguson said in a press release. “No one should face unemployment for choosing to pursue private legal medical treatment.”
As the law currently works, veterans and others who seek federal employment can be turned away if they test positive for marijuana metabolites. That’s left many with an uncomfortable choice: stop using marijuana even if it’s proven therapeutic or continuing using and miss out on potential job opportunities.
“The time for the federal government to end the practice of arbitrarily discriminating against current and potential workers for marijuana consumption is now,” NORML political director Justin Strekal said in a press release. “With 47 states having reformed their cannabis laws to be in direct conflict with the federal Controlled Substances Act, individuals acting in compliance with state law should not be denied the opportunity to serve their country as public servants.”
My non-partisan bill is trying to do what’s right for the American people – @RepCharlieCrist speaking with local veterans about his new bill, HR 6589. Read it here: https://t.co/8bcbKSDLRp pic.twitter.com/IqZluRLXmn
— Surterra Wellness (@Surterra) August 8, 2018
Though exact numbers are hard to come by, earlier reports show that employers in the federal government are at least aware of the problem. In 2014, former FBI director James Comey publicly voiced concerns that the agency’s drug testing policy could complicate recruitment efforts, for example.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cybercriminals, and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” Comey said at the time.
Crist’s Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act would not take away an employer’s right to issue probable cause drug tests when a worker is suspected of on-the-job impairment. It also makes an exemption for “individuals occupying or seeking a position requiring a top-secret clearance.”
Several states have either passed or attempted to pass laws that similarly prevent employment discrimination against marijuana users in legal states, according to NORML. That list includes states like California, Wisconsin, Florida and New Jersey.
But with cannabis still strictly banned under federal law, Crist’s bill seeks to stop employment discrimination at executive branch agencies, getting ahead of the curve to ensure that legal consumers aren’t forced to choose between treatment and gainful employment.
Photo courtesy of M a n u e l.