People who work for the federal government – or want to – face hurdles around marijuana use that most private sector employees don’t. That’s because its use is still illegal under federal law – despite the fact that it’s been fully legalized in a number of states as well as in D.C.
For example, federal employers who drug test employees can legally fire them for having it in their system even if they used it legally outside of work. Job applicants can be denied positions for testing positive.
Federal agencies each have their own regulations – and they vary significantly. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) prohibits marijuana use by employees. The Department of Transportation (DOT) has restrictions for those in “safety-sensitive” positions. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says it won’t hire anyone who admits to using it in the past year.
Those who want to work in the executive branch are subject to understandably high scrutiny. Soon after President Biden took office, it was reported that dozens of staffers had been suspended, lost their jobs or were required to work remotely because of marijuana use. The White House, however, said that no one lost their job for “marijuana usage from years ago” or “casual or infrequent use during the prior 12 months.”
Strict regulations have created a “brain drain”
Reform advocates argue that these restrictive regulations by some federal employers have created a “brain drain” from the federal government. Many jobs require unique technical and other specialized education and expertise that they won’t get if they enforce strict marijuana use regulations. As one says, “I’m sure every agency bends the rules if they have a particular target hire or a very valuable employee they want to keep on board.”
Can Congress agree on a legislative solution?
Congress is working to ease federal employer restrictions with a couple of pieces of legislation. The House of Representatives and the Senate each have their own bills that address the problem somewhat differently. However, neither of them appears to clear up all confusion for current or prospective employees – or employers.
It’s important for federal employees to be clear about any restrictions placed on them – and that these restrictions are applied fairly. If you believe that you were wrongfully terminated or otherwise penalized for marijuana use, it may be wise to seek legal advice to better understand and assert your rights.