The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has rehired and will provide back pay to a special agent who was fired after testing positive for THC that he attributed to CBD he was taking as an opioid alternative for chronic pain, with the agency reaching a settlement agreement in a lawsuit challenging the termination.
After being fired in 2019 over the random drug screening, Anthony Armour filed suit against DEA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit last year, asserting that the agency didn’t have grounds to remove him after using what he believed to be a federally legal hemp product, without evidence he intended to break the law.
Last week, Armour prevailed—with DEA agreeing to reinstate him, with some back pay and restored eligibility for a pension.
The New York Times first reported that the agency also agreed to cover the plaintiff’s legal expenses, though one court filing in the case said that “each side shall bear its own attorney fees, costs and expenses.”
Throughout the lawsuit, the Justice Department acknowledged that Armour was an “outstanding” special agent during his 16-year tenure, but they said his “reckless” conduct in consuming CBD justified the termination.
“I’m excited to be getting back to work at DEA,” Armour, who was expected to return to the agency’s Houston office on Monday, told The Times. “I hope to finish my career at DEA by helping its mission in taking dangerous drugs like fentanyl off the streets.”
As argued by Armour’s attorney Matt Zorn, DEA notably did not have a CBD policy for its workforce at the time of the termination, which came about a year after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill.
The agency did amend its policy for job applicants in 2021, updating a questionnaire to only ask about hemp and cannabidiol use prior to the crop’s federal legalization. Multiple federal departments have similarly adopted CBD guidance that generally caution against using the non-intoxicating cannabinoid in the years since.
The settlement agreement with DEA also comes as the agency completes a broader review into marijuana scheduling under a 2022 directive from President Joe Biden. The top federal health agency has recommended moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA), but DEA has maintained that it has “final authority” in the matter.
There was a question raised in Armour’s case whether a Schedule III reclassification would prevent DEA from enforcing the employment penalty, as the agency had relied on a Reagan-era executive order to define an “illegal drug,” which is any Schedule I or Schedule II controlled substance that is not prescribed.
For his part, Armour told Marijuana Moment last year that he does personally “support legalization,” calling it a “common sense” policy.
“Obviously, the science backing legalization is there, and it’s just been ignored this entire time,” he said. “Thankfully, we have people that are able to bring the issue to light and educate a lot of people.”
Meanwhile, DEA has also called for the production of even more THC, psilocybin and DMT for research purposes than it initially proposed for 2024—raising its quotas for those drugs while maintaining already high production goals for marijuana and other psychedelics.
DEA has touted its Schedule I drug production quotas as evidence that is supports rigorous research into the substances, but it’s faced criticism from advocates and scientists over actions that are viewed as antithetical to promoting studies.
For example, DEA announced last month that it is taking another shot at banning two psychedelics after abandoning its original scheduling proposal in 2022, teeing up another fight with researchers and advocates who say the compounds hold therapeutic potential.
Read legal documents in Armour’s lawsuit against the DEA below: