A new bill filed in Congress on Wednesday would prevent federal agencies from firing employees or denying new hires based solely on state-legal cannabis use, potentially reversing decades of strict drug testing standards.
According to Sunshine State News, the “Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act” was introduced by Florida Democratic Representative Charlie Crist and Georgia Republican Drew Ferguson. Presented by Crist in Largo, Florida, the new legislation is specifically targeted at military veterans, a population that has for years struggled to reconcile the benefits of medical marijuana with their ties to the federal government.
The federal government is the largest employer of military veterans, and a recent survey from the American Legion found that 1 in 5 returning soldiers uses marijuana for some form of medical relief. But despite continued calls from veterans advocacy groups seeking increased access to the plant and comprehensive research into PTSD and MMJ, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has been largely unresponsive to that outcry, with VA officials pointing to federal prohibition regulations every time the subject is raised.
"Medical marijuana is an issue of compassion, and in the veterans' community, access is even more important as more and more veterans are turning to cannabis to address chronic pain and PTSD. At the same time, the federal government is the largest employer of veterans; however, private cannabis use even in states that have legalized medical marijuana is prohibited in these positions," Crist said at a press conference announcing the new bill. "Our bipartisan bill would protect federal employment for those in compliance with their state's cannabis laws. Because our veterans shouldn't have to choose between treatment options or job opportunities."
Under current government employment regulations, anyone cashing paychecks from Uncle Sam must first pass a drug test screening for federally scheduled narcotics. At any point during their work, federal employees can be asked to repeat those tests, and can be fired on the spot if their sample does not come up clean.
If Crist’s bill passes, federally-funded employers would be legally required to respect all forms of state-legal cannabis, both medical and recreational. And while Crist’s introductory statements have largely focused on the bill’s implications for medical cannabis users, in states like California and Colorado, the legislation would make federal employers treat marijuana use in a manner similar to alcohol consumption.
“An individual whose residence is in a State where that individual’s private use of marijuana is not prohibited, who is tested under a drug testing program of any Executive agency without probable cause to believe that the individual is under the influence of marijuana… and, in the case of an individual whose use of marijuana was for medical purposes, who is able to provide documentation attesting to the lawful nature of such use under the law of the State, may not, based solely on such positive test, be denied employment at an Executive agency,” the newly introduced legislation reads.
The Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under State Laws Act would not protect federal employees from possible termination if they are found to be using cannabis on the job, nor would it apply to any government employee with or seeking a top-secret security clearance.