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Job Corps Loosens Marijuana Testing Rules For Federal Youth Workforce Training Program



Job Corps, the national job-training program administered by the U.S. Department of Labor, has changed its drug-screening protocol for marijuana in order to avoid punishing young people for using cannabis prior to starting the program.

Though Job Corps is drug-free and alcohol-free program, participants with a history of use are not automatically deemed ineligible. All new and readmitted students are required to be tested for drug use upon arrival to a Job Corps center. If they test positive, they’re enrolled in prevention and education services and then screened a second time about 40 days later.

Prior to the new change, any positive on the second test was grounds for dismissal for the program. Under the new procedure, however, someone who tests positive for marijuana on the second test would not be penalized so long as “there is at least a 50% reduction in THC levels.”

Results below that threshold “will be considered a negative test” and attributed “to drug use prior to enrollment,” Job Corps said in documents about the change. “The student will stay in the program and receive relapse prevention services.”

“Our new, student-centered policy will no longer penalize students for past marijuana use prior to enrolling in Job Corps.”

“We believe our new policy will help us better meet students wherever they may be in their own journeys and provide them with the platform and opportunity to make a change in their lives,” officials said in a list of talking points about the policy.

The new testing protocol applies to students arriving into the program as of February 13. It does not affect how positive results around other drugs are treated.

“This change has long been requested by students, staff, and parents,” officials said. “We believe these changes will allow us to better serve as many students as we can, and it means our policy will now screen students into the program rather than out of it.”

“We acknowledge that the timing of this new policy may be very frustrating for current students” who won’t be helped by the change, they added.

As for how Job Corps arrived at the 50 percent reduction threshold, the program said in an FAQ that it’s based on the half-life of THC in the body.

“Scientific studies show that this varies between 5 to 13 days. Job Corps chose the longest possible half-life at 13 days to reduce the risk of separating students who are slow metabolizers and have abstained from marijuana,” it says. “By choosing this longest scientifically determined half-life, other factors that impede excretion, such as dehydration, lack of activity, and body mass are taken into consideration.”

Job Corps Acting National Director Erin McGee announced the policy change to program administrators, staff and contractors in a memo on February 14.

“The positive THC result is most likely due to residual concentrations of THC resulting from drug use prior to entering Job Corps,” McGee’s memo says of a positive result on a second test. “There is no disciplinary consequence.”

The changes are also reflected in the latest version of the Job Corps policy and requirements handbook.

Notably, as a federal, drug-free program, Job Corps does not make accommodations for medical marijuana use by participant—a policy Labor Department officials made clear in an earlier 2016 memo.

“Job Corps centers are neither required nor permitted to accommodate medical marijuana use by a Job Corps participant,” that memo said.

Cannabis-related employment policies have been a major topic across the country amid the marijuana legalization movement.

As marijuana legalization began to take effect in Ohio last year, for example, Cleveland Mayor Justin M. Bibb (D) announced that the city had “modernized” its drug testing policies for applicants for city jobs, eliminating “antiquated language around pre-employment marijuana testing that has previously hindered hiring efforts.”

And Washington, D.C. law went into effect in July that bans most private workplaces from firing or otherwise punishing employees for marijuana use during non-work hours.

Michigan officials approved changes to the state’s employment policy over the summer, making it so applicants for most government jobs will no longer be subject to pre-employment drug testing for marijuana.

New York also provides broader employment protections for adults who legally use cannabis during off-hours and away from work.

In California, meanwhile, two pieces of legislation signed into law in 2022 and 2023 took effect recently that prohibit employers from asking job applicants about past cannabis use and bar employers from penalizing workers over lawful marijuana use while off the job.

The Job Corps policy reflects an approach also seen in a new Washington State law that bars pre-employment drug testing for marijuana but nevertheless allows employers to fire workers for testing positive after they’re hired.

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Ben Adlin, a senior editor at Marijuana Moment, has been covering cannabis and other drug policy issues professionally since 2011. He was previously a senior news editor at Leafly, an associate editor at the Los Angeles Daily Journal and a Coro Fellow in Public Affairs. He lives in Washington State.


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