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Congress Bill Submitted to End Cannabis Testing for Federal Employees

By Leo Bear-McGuinness
Published: Sep 11, 2018   
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A member of the United States House of Representatives has submitted a bill to Congress which, if passed, would allow legal cannabis users to become federal employees.

Currently, a clean test for cannabis and other drugs is a “condition of employment” with the federal government since the implementation of the Federal Drug-Free Workplace Program. Along with many groups, this requirement has become an issue for US veterans looking to join the federal government. Veterans make up a substantial portion of federal recruits but one in five say they use cannabis to alleviate a medical or physical condition.

Spurred on by this cause, Charlie Crist, representing Florida's 13th district, submitted the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under States Laws Act on July 26, 2018 in the first congressional effort to amend the law.

Federal Employee Drug Testing

In 1986, President Ronald Reagan signed an executive order which established the US government’s goal of a “drug-free federal workplace” and made it a condition of employment for all federal employees to refrain from using illegal drugs on or off-duty.

When signing the order, the president himself summed up the concerns of the government by saying, “I… find that drug use is having serious adverse effects upon a significant proportion of the national work force and results in billions of dollars of lost productivity each year… The use of illegal drugs, on or off duty, by federal employees is inconsistent not only with the law-abiding behavior expected of all citizens, but also with the special trust placed in such employees as servants of the public,”

“Federal employees who use illegal drugs, on or off duty, tend to be less productive, less reliable, and prone to greater absenteeism than their fellow employees who do not use illegal drugs.”

The Drug-Free Workplace Act then became law in 1988 and so required federal contractors and grantees to agree to provide drug-free workplaces as a precondition of receiving a contract or grant from a federal agency.

Cannabis Testing and the Thin Green Line

Of course, US drug policy has changed somewhat since 1988. Medicinal cannabis is now legal in 30 states, but the Drug-Free Workplace Act still prevents federal employees from using the drug under any circumstances.

This situation stigmatizes a whole host of individuals, from chemotherapy patients to those with severe epileptic conditions. But by a mile the group generating the most criticism of the act are US veterans.

As of 2016, 635,266 veterans were employed by the federal government and represent approximately one-third (31.1 percent) of the total US federal workforce.

According to a poll of US service veterans conducted by the American Legion, one in five veterans self-reported using cannabis to alleviate a medical or physical condition. And support among the group is even larger. The same survey showed that 81 percent of veterans back federally-legal treatment and 60 percent of respondents didn’t live in states where medical cannabis is legal. Plus, when age was taken into consideration, 100 percent of respondents aged 18-30 supported federally legalized medical cannabis.

The culmination of this frustration came recently when these results were presented on Capitol Hill by the American Legion. During the presentation, which was joined by House representatives Tim Walz, Mark Takano, Julia Brownley, and Matt Gaetz, veterans shared their own accounts of the beneficial effects of the drug.

Cannabis For Veterans 

Taking the plight of these veterans to heart, House Representative Charlie Crist stated that, “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,”

At a press conference announcing his submission of the Fairness in Federal Drug Testing Under States Laws Act, Crist added that, “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.”

What Chance Does the Bill Have? 

After being submitted on July 26, the bill is still in the first stage of the US legislative process. The next step will be when it is considered by a committee and, depending on their approval, it will be sent on to the House of Representatives or the Senate as a whole.

It has a 3 percent chance of being enacted, according to Skopos Labs, an AI-powered research platform that predicts outcomes from unstructured data.


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