U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food safety workers are being encouraged to exercise caution and avoid cannabis products, including federally legal CBD, as the agency observes an “uptick” in positive THC tests amid “confusion” as more states enact legalization.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) put out a notice last last month reminding employees that they’re “required to follow all Federal laws regarding the use of illegal drugs, including cannabis, also commonly known as marijuana.”
“Over the last decade, societal perspectives have undergone significant changes with respect to the use of certain drugs, especially for cannabis and cannabis products,” USDA said. “Many states have legalized cannabis use for medicinal purposes. Some states allow cannabis use recreationally, much like tobacco or alcohol products. There is also confusion around state-by-state legalization changes and the rapidly expanding availability of cannabis products.”
Despite being one of the departments most affected by the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp and its derivatives like CBD, USDA suggested that confusion extends to the non-intoxicating cannabinoid. CBD products “are not generally regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or other regulatory agencies to ensure the labels are truthful and accurate,” it warned workers.
“In other words, using Cannabidiol (CBD) oils and cannabis-derived products comes with a risk of a positive urine drug test, even when product labels state that they contain no THC,” it said. “In fact, there has been a noticeable uptick in cases of Federal employees failing drug tests throughout the United States. In some situations, these failed drug tests resulted in corrective actions, including suspensions or loss of employment for federal employees.”
The notice also pointed out that changes in “societal perspectives and state laws” might mean that FSIS employees could find themselves inadvertently exposed to cannabis products “in social situations” such as “celebrations.”
“It is important to know that cannabis use can negatively impact Federal employment,” it says.
USDA is one of numerous federal agencies that have issued notices to workers amid the evolving cannabis policy landscape, which continues to see states enact marijuana reform and lawmakers seek to create responsive employment protections.
For example, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has finalized a rule to amend its drug testing policy in a way that could have significant implications for truckers, commercial drivers, pilots and other federally regulated transit workers who use marijuana off the job.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has updated its employment policy to make it so 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—whereas those who did so in violation of state cannabis policies won’t be considered.
The Secret Service also recently relaxed restrictions on prior marijuana use by prospective agents.
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.
Meanwhile, people working in the climate sector would be protected from being fired for testing positive for marijuana if they’re based in a legal state under a recently refiled bill from more than 40 congressional Democrats.
The House Rules Committee has repeatedly blocked attempts by lawmakers to end the practice of drug testing federal job applicants for marijuana as part of large-scale spending bills this session.
Over in the Senate, however, members passed defense legislation in July that contains provisions to bar intelligence agencies like the CIA and NSA from denying security clearances to applicants solely due to their past marijuana use.
The House Oversight and Accountability Committee also passed a standalone bipartisan bill in September that would prevent the denial of federal employment or security clearances based on a candidate’s past marijuana use.
At the state level, California’s governor recently approved a bill to prohibit employers from asking job applicants about prior marijuana use.
In Michigan, a policy took effect in October that ends pre-employment drug testing for marijuana for most government job applicants, while also giving people who’ve already been penalized over positive THC tests an opportunity to have the sanction retroactively rescinded.
In May, the governor of Washington State signed a bill into law that will protect workers from facing employment discrimination during the hiring process over their lawful use of marijuana.
That means Washington has joined Nevada in prohibiting discrimination against job applicants for testing positive for marijuana. New York also provides broader employment protections for adults who legally use cannabis during off-hours and away from work.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.