Using Cannabis Won't Disqualify People From Getting Federal Jobs Anymore
A new memo by the government personnel office advises federal agencies to be more open-minded about hiring people who have used weed in the past.
Published on March 1, 2021

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Although the US government continues to prohibit its employees from using medical or adult-use cannabis, officials are finally willing to consider hiring someone that has used pot in the past. 

The 1988 Drug-Free Workplace Act prohibits federal employees from using any form of cannabis, whether on or off duty, regardless of state legality. Many federal agencies and all armed forces even prohibit the use of CBD, which is federally legal. Prior use of cannabis does not officially disqualify someone from working for the feds, but the stigma against weed has certainly discouraged many employers from offering jobs to former weed users.

Kathleen M. McGettigan, Acting Director of the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) for the Biden administration, recently released a memo advising federal agencies that prior pot use should not necessarily disqualify an applicant from employment. The memo does not actually change the government's employment policies, but simply suggests that hiring directors could be more open-minded about applicants' former cannabis use.

“It would be inconsistent with suitability regulations to implement a policy of finding an individual unfit or unsuitable for federal service solely on the basis of recency of marijuana use,” McGettigan wrote, according to Marijuana Moment. “Past marijuana use, including recently discontinued marijuana use, should be viewed differently from ongoing marijuana use.”

“As more state laws have changed, federal agencies are increasingly encountering individuals whose knowledge, skills, and abilities make them well-qualified for a position, but whose marijuana use may or may not be of concern when considering the suitability or fitness of the individual for the position,” the memo explains. “Even where an individual has illegally used marijuana without evidence of substantial rehabilitation, agencies cannot find an individual unsuitable” unless officials believe that applicants' former weed use could compromise the integrity of their work.

The White House’s Executive Office of the President is also making a small stride towards employing former cannabis users. The Biden administration will be granting waivers to certain officials who have occasionally used pot in the past. Anyone who receives these waivers must pledge to stop using cannabis, though, and must also consent to random drug testing. And, for some reason, the waiver requires employees who have used pot recently to work remotely for an unspecified length of time.

It's promising that the government is finally more open to hiring individuals who have used cannabis in the past, but as a whole, the government's official drug-free workplace policies remain unchanged. Most federal employees continue to be randomly tested for weed, and anyone who fails this test can still be fired from their job.

“The federal government’s refusal to remove the cannabis plant from its inappropriate categorization as a Schedule I prohibited substance under federal law continues to have ripple effects,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano in a statement. “Placing civil service employees and others in the workforce under undue scrutiny because of their past use of cannabis, and imposing disciplinary action for those employees who consume cannabis while off-the-job in accordance with the laws of their states, are among the many negative consequences facing Americans as a result of the federal government’s ‘Flat Earth’ policy toward cannabis and those who consume it.”

“Suspicionless marijuana testing in the workplace is not now, nor has it ever been, an evidence-based policy,” Armentano continued. “Rather, these discriminatory practices are a holdover from the zeitgeist of the 1980s ‘war on drugs.’ But times have changed; attitudes have changed, and in many places, the marijuana laws have changed. It is time for workplace policies to adapt to this new reality and to cease punishing employees for activities they engage in during their off-hours that pose no workplace safety threat.”

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Chris Moore
Chris Moore is a New York-based writer who has written for Mass Appeal while also mixing records and producing electronic music.
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