Even Where Legal, No Pot for Federal Workers

Use of Marijuana Anywhere, for Any Purpose Remains a Firing Offense

Legalize Marijuana Demonstration
Even Where Legal, Federal Employees Cannot Use Pot. Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Life is unfair. Or so may seem to some of the 4.1 million federal government employees, who have now been told that even if they live in D.C. or one of the 23 states where it is now legal, using marijuana can get them fired.

So warns, in no uncertain terms, the recent “guidance” memo to government workers from U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) Director Katherine Archuleta.

“Heads of agencies are expected to advise their workforce that legislative changes by some states and the District of Columbia do not alter federal law, existing suitability criteria or Executive Branch policies regarding marijuana,” stated Archuleta’s memo.

[ No Legal Pot Toking for D.C. Federal Workers ]

Among the 23 states that have enacted laws allowing adults to use medically prescribed marijuana, the District of Columbia, Washington, Alaska, Oregon and Colorado have enacted separate laws allowing adults to posses and use pot for recreational purposes.

However, use of marijuana for any purpose remains illegal for all civilian and military federal employees, including Postal Service workers, in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

In addition, all Americans are still prohibited from possessing marijuana on all federally administered properties, such as national parks, nature preserves, monuments, and courthouses, as well as all federally-subsidized public housing projects.

In a classic case of federal vs. state powers, while states are lining up to legalize it, the U.S. Department of Justice often reminds us that the use of marijuana for any purpose continues to be a felony violation of the federal Controlled Substance Act.

“Federal law on marijuana remains unchanged,” stated Archuleta’s memo. “Marijuana is categorized as a controlled substance under Schedule I of the Controlled Substance Act. Thus knowing or intentional marijuana possession is illegal, even if an individual has no intent to manufacture, distribute, or dispense marijuana.”

For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs continues to refuse to prescribe marijuana to aid in the treatment of veterans suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome or pain.

[ DOD, VA Offer Nearly 200 Programs to Help Post-9/11 Veterans ]

Far from “new rules,” the OPM’s anti-marijuana memo merely reinforces an executive order issued by President Ronald Reagan in 1986 requiring the federal Executive Branch agencies to maintain a drug-free workplace.

Applying to both medicinal and recreational use, Reagan’s order prohibits federal employees from knowingly or intentionally possessing marijuana for any reason or purpose.

Executive Order 12564, Drug-Free Federal Workplace, mandates that (a) Federal employees are required to refrain from the use of illegal drugs; (b) the use of illegal drugs by Federal employees, whether on or off duty, is contrary to the efficiency of the service; and (c) persons who use illegal drugs are not suitable for Federal employment,” stated the order.

While noting that using marijuana can be grounds for an “unfavorable suitability determination” -- also known as “a reason to fire you” – Archuleta’s memo also offers job salvation through rehabilitation and abstinence.

“The Executive Order emphasizes, however, that discipline is not required for employees who voluntarily seek counseling or rehabilitation and thereafter refrain from using illegal drugs,” the memo states.

Archuleta’s memo emphasizes that all agencies are required to provide Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) to provide that “counseling or rehabilitation” to civilian employees with drug problems.

How Likely Are They to Get Caught?

You might be surprised to learn that the federal government has no standard pre- or post-employment drug testing program. President Reagan’s 1986 Drug-Free Federal Workplace order left the issue of drug testing up to the various agencies.

The OPM notes that Regan’s order “expressly states that use of illegal drugs on or off duty by federal employees in positions with access to sensitive information may pose a serious risk to national security and is inconsistent with the trust placed in such employees as servants of the public.” However, as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has pointed out, the OPM has never clearly identified those “positions with access to sensitive information.”

Today, routine random drug testing is done mainly in the military or in civilian jobs dealing with national security or law enforcement.

For example, the U.S. Border Patrol’s hiring policy for field agents states, “You must pass a urine drug test: tentative selectees for this position will be required to submit to a urine drug screen for illegal substances prior to appointment. This position is designated for testing for illegal drug use; after hiring, incumbents are subject to random testing.”

Otherwise, employees in agencies not dealing with law enforcement or national security are generally tested only when their supervisors suspect they might be using drugs on the job. 

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Longley, Robert. "Even Where Legal, No Pot for Federal Workers." ThoughtCo, May. 18, 2016, thoughtco.com/no-pot-for-federal-workers-3321885. Longley, Robert. (2016, May 18). Even Where Legal, No Pot for Federal Workers. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/no-pot-for-federal-workers-3321885 Longley, Robert. "Even Where Legal, No Pot for Federal Workers." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/no-pot-for-federal-workers-3321885 (accessed December 11, 2017).