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First Responders No Longer Disqualified For Past Marijuana Use In Austin

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People applying to be first responders in Austin, Texas will no longer need to disclose their prior marijuana use following a push by advocates to get the policy change enacted.

Austin-Travis County EMS (ATCEMS) revised the employment policy late last month after members of Texas NORML and the local EMS union called attention to the issue and sent nearly 3,000 letters to City Council members advocating for a change.

“That question [about cannabis use within the past three years] and the associated disqualifier has been removed from both the application for employment and our EMSRecruiting.org website,” an ATCEMS spokesperson told Marijuana Moment on Monday.

The local EMS union said that the reform was all the more appropriate given that the legislature passed a bill earlier this year that expanded the state’s limited medical cannabis program to include post-traumatic stress disorder in the list of qualifying conditions.

“Due to COVID-19 and the nature of EMS work, many of our first responders have PTSD,” Austin EMS Association President Selena Xie said in a press release.

Jax Finkel, executive director of Texas NORML, told Marijuana Moment that the organization “was proud to team up with Austin first responders to push back on hiring practices that discriminate against legal cannabis consumption.”

“The NORML community in Austin raised their voices and got this done so we can focus on public safety,” she said.

Heather Fazio, director of Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy, told Marijuana Moment that “both public and private sector employers are beginning to recognize that adults who use cannabis responsibly should not be disqualified for jobs.”

“It’s been a long time coming, but change is happening at all levels thanks to advocacy groups like Texas NORML,” she said.

Meanwhile, activists throughout the state are working to enact broader marijuana reform locally and at the state level.

Advocates in San Marcos, Texas recently launched a campaign to put marijuana decriminalization on the local ballot in 2022, for example.

A separate campaign attempted to put cannabis decriminalization on Austin’s ballot this November, but activists have since shifted their strategy toward putting the measure in front of voters on the May 2022 ballot.

The Austin Police Department updated its own marijuana policy last year, announcing in a memo that officers will “no longer cite or arrest individuals with sufficient identification for Class A or Class B misdemeanor ‘possession of marijuana’ offenses.”

A strong majority of Texans back even broader reform, according to recent polling. Sixty percent of voters in the state support making cannabis legal “for any use,” signaling that local initiatives for more modest proposals like decriminalization will likely prevail where they qualify for local ballots.

This year’s legislative session in Texas saw numerous drug policy proposals advance, including a since-enacted bill to require a study into the therapeutic potential of certain psychedelics for military veterans.

Advocates remain disappointed, however, that lawmakers were unable to pass more expansive cannabis bills—including a decriminalization proposal that cleared the House but saw no action in the Senate.

The House approved a cannabis decriminalization bill in 2019, but it did not advance in the Senate that session.

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Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Kyle Jaeger is Marijuana Moment's Sacramento-based senior editor. His work has also appeared in High Times, VICE and attn.

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