A top official with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) says that as more states have moved to legalize marijuana, public opinion has “shifted dramatically” and federal agencies are seeing an “uptick” in positive drug tests for cannabis that’s causing more workers to be fired.
In a blog post addressed to federal employees last week, USFS Deputy Chief for Business Operations Tony Dixon said that over the past decade, “our views around the use of marijuana have shifted radically.” Noting that a growing number of states are enacting legalization, he asked, “where does that leave the federal government?”
“The Forest Service is a federal agency and, as a result, we are subject to any and all federal regulations that are in place,” Dixon wrote. “That means that all of us, as federal employees, are required to remain drug-free and refrain from federally prohibited drug use whether on- or off-duty, regardless of state law.”
“As a result of the confusion around these state-by-state changes, there has been a noticeable uptick in cases of employees failing drug tests,” the Forest Service official continued. “Those results have been associated with the legalization of marijuana and have resulted in corrective action, including suspensions and loss of employment.”
Federal prohibition hasn’t just impacted the existing workforce; it’s also deterred a significant number of potential candidates from even applying to federal jobs. A recent survey found that 30 percent of those between the ages of 18 and 30 have either declined to apply or withdrawn applications for federal employment because of strict marijuana policies required for security clearances.
“I value all my co-workers and want to ensure that we all continue to do the work we love in a safe environment,” Dixon said. “I don’t want to see anyone penalized or even lose their jobs for something that could easily be avoided.”
Rather than advocate for a policy change that would protect people from facing employment penalties over cannabis, however, he stressed the importance of strictly adhering to current federal law.
“Many Forest Service employees already work in risky environments in the service of our communities,” Dixon said. “We want you to be aware of how this choice could have a negative effect on the rest of your lives.”
He also took the opportunity to remind workers about the risks of using federally legal hemp-derived CBD products. Because the CBD market isn’t regulated in a way that provides for testing, there’s a risk of consuming mislabeled products that contain high enough concentrations of THC to trigger a positive drug test, he said.
The Forest Service similarly cautioned against the use of CBD and reminded employees about the marijuana ban in a notice last year.
“As federal employees, we have high expectations placed on us by not just the federal government but by the communities we serve. We are always expected and required to conduct ourselves in accordance with federal rules and regulations,” Dixon’s new post concludes. “Above all, I want to make sure that at the end of the day, no one’s employment is affected or cut short by situations that are within our control. Please remember that no matter the state, as a federal employee, you are always subject to federal law.”
While marijuana employment policies under federal prohibition remain strict, various agencies have moved to loosen requirements as more states have moved to enact legalization.
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For example, the U.S. Secret Service (USSS) recently updated its employment policy to be more accommodating to applicants who’ve previously used marijuana, making it so candidates of any age become eligible one year after they last consumed cannabis. Previously, there were stricter age-based restrictions.
The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has also revised its cannabis rules for job applicants. Applicants who’ve grown, manufactured or sold marijuana in compliance with state laws while serving in a “position of public responsibility” will no longer be automatically disqualified.
Late last year, draft documents obtained by Marijuana Moment showed that the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) was proposing to replace a series of job application forms for prospective workers in a way that would treat past cannabis use much more leniently than under current policy.
The Biden administration instituted a policy in 2021 authorizing waivers to be granted to certain workers who admit to prior marijuana use, but certain lawmakers have pushed for additional reform.
For example, Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) said at a congressional hearing on marijuana legalization last year that he intended to file a bill aimed at protecting federal workers from being denied security clearances over marijuana.
Earlier this month, the Senate Intelligence Committee adopted an amendment to prevent agencies like CIA and NSA from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use.
Last year, the nation’s largest union representing federal employees 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.
The director of national intelligence (DNI) said in 2021 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 also updated its hiring policies that 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 has more 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.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) sent a letter to the head of DOT last year, 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.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.