Encouraging news from the front, my dearest! As of this writing, all but 14 states have surrendered their discriminatory cannabis prohibition laws to some degree, either medicinally or recreationally. Hope leaps in my breast that the Drug War may soon be ended and I shall return to your ample bosom again, to while away our days with sarsaparillas on the porch and playing grabass amongst the crabapples. Alas, the federal government has been stubborn as a left-footed arse about removing delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) from its list of Schedule 1 substances. So what about federal government employees? Are they at liberty to partake in states where marijuana consumption is legal? The short answer is NO. Sorry, Charlie! But read the long answer anyway.
What SAMHSA Says, Goes
The key player here is the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, an agency within the US Dept of Health & Human Services. According to themselves, SAMHSA leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation and works to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities. In practice, they set the scientific and technical standards for drug testing in the federal government and regulated industries, the Mandatory Guidelines for Workplace Drug Testing. So they accomplish their goals by checks notes making sure nobody like that gets a job? Right then, jolly good, Orwell and all that jazz, carry on.
So what’s the mood like at SAMHSA these days? Well, their top executive has yet to be replaced officially by the Biden administration. Tom Correre is still Acting Assistant Secretary after Dr. Elinore McCance-Katz jumped off the Trump-wreck on January 7th, citing the former president’s incitement of the Capitol riots. We are left to glean any further insight from the former leadership’s actions. The agency’s Know the Risks of Marijuana page was last updated in Dec ’20 and remains a prominent link on their site.
We also know that the Director of Division Workplace Programs there issued a memo days after the 2020 election, when several states expanded their legal marijuana legislation. In it, he advises federal drug program coordinators, medical review officers, and federal partner that no changes have been made to their Mandatory Guidelines. SAMHSA might even double down, cuz word is the feds might switch to hair follicle testing, which can produce a positive THC result for approximately 90 days post-consumption. Apparently they’d rather have you out huffing paint or smoking Spice in your time off, since they only test for cannabis, ecstasy, PCP, coke, heroin, and a couple other opioids (Vicodin and Oxycontin).
Testing Designated Positions
Even after you pass your pre-employment screening, every federal workers is subject to drug testing if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that the employee is using drugs or they have an accident on the job. Well, we all make mistakes. Personally, I won’t even consider an aide for my basement surgical theater if they refuse the ether rag during the interview. Accidents with my “patients” are..bound…to happen.
But the feds also have a policy of Testing Designated Positions (TDP) which requires them to conduct random drug testing on at least 50 percent of their workers annually. But you probably know about this already if you’re subject to it, cuz they let you know in the job description that you’d be subject to randomized testing. SAMHSA issued the last update to these guidelines in 2010. Included are agency heads, political appointees, law enforcement, railroad and aviation personnel, employees with Top Secret security clearance & higher, along with some positions that are at the discretion of their individual agencies- healthcare professionals & drug rehab workers, firefighters, pharmacists, and so on. It’s all a bit overkill. Speaking of- looks like we have a runner, Nurse! Be a dear and grab the net, won’t you? Flicks syringe I do so hope this one’s got some cleverness.
What about CBD?
Cannabidol is federally legal since the 2018 Farm Bill (heralded by Mitch frikkin McConnell of all people). So federal employees can use CBD with no problem, right? Not so fast, Flash! Despite the legality of these products, they contain trace amounts of THC. The standard under federal law states that hemp derived product should contain less than 0.3 percent THC, but the products are poorly regulated and even products with the legal amount can still cause a positive test result if taken in sufficient quantity. NBC news, for instance, reported in 2019 about a DHS agent in north Texas who lost his job by using CBD oil for pain. Many agencies have since issued official statements warning employees about the use of legal, hemp-derived products.
The problem, aside from the tangled state of federal legalization, is that currently available testing methods can only establish the presence of THC. Since weed can stay in the body for weeks after use, there’s no way to tell if they got there from CBD products or THC, while in a legal state or not, on or off duty. The flipside is that if such technology was produced, it’d be turned on private citizens by law enforcement, so what exactly are we arguing for here? I dunno, Buster, I guess the real world is complicated. C’mon, let’s go get some Hardees.